Rich Galen

I am good about getting my shots. At my advanced age I was supposed to get a pneumonia shot and a shingles shot, so I got them.

I also got a flu shot. I didn't get a flu shot in Tanzania or Kenya. I got it at my Doc's office on K Street so I can only assume it was full strength.

Next year, I'm going to ask for super strength, because if I don't have the flu, I have a really, really bad cold.

I am generally pretty healthy. Other than the occasional cardiac bypass surgery and a minor hernia procedure, I mostly stay out of hospitals and only go to the myriad of specialists as is warranted by my advancing age.

In fact, it is probably because I do all the preventative stuff that my age is continuing to advance.

But tonight. As I type this. I feel as if I am one sneeze away from being the main character in Barbara Tuchman's book "A Distant Mirror" which was about the Black Plague in the 14th century.

It is a good thing that I don't get sick very often because I'm like a cat that doesn't feel well: I want to be left alone to curl up behind the couch until I'm hungry or thirsty then I want food and/or apricot nectar instantly.

Bendy straw not crucial, but certainly appreciated.

The flu is an astonishingly tenacious set of little bugs.

In any given year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5 - 20 percent of U.S. residents will get it.

Keep in mind there are about 315 million people in the U.S. so even in a weak year, we can expect between 15.75 and 63 MILLION cases. Even at a mortality rate of 0.08 percent, that would mean - in a big year - 49,000 people in America would die of seasonal flu.

That's a lot of people dying from what most of us consider to be a relatively benign disease.

There are some years when both the infection rate and mortality rate explode. In 1918 the "Spanish Flu," which likely began in an army camp in Kansas, raced around the globe infecting between 20% and 40% of the population worldwide (compared to the U.S. infection rates above).

It killed about 50 million people, including 675,000 in the U.S. In that era there were about 105 million people.

If the current flu were to morph into a Spanish-like (or SARS-like) virus in 2013, we could lose 2 million Americans over the next year or so.

It is because flu is so ubiquitous that health officials keep such close tabs on outbreaks in places like bird markets and pig farms in China.

A very small increase in mortality means a huge jump in actual deaths.

In the Spring of 2003 an outbreak of a flu-like virus was detected in China and (of all places) Toronto. It was named SARS, for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

I didn't have it, but I thought I had it and wrote what turned out to be a pretty funny Travelogue (click HERE to read it). But it was only funny because I didn't have SARS.

If you haven't gotten a flu shot (and you haven't had the flu this season) go to your local doc, clinic, or drug store and get one.

If you do get a shot, don't go hanging around sick people. The overall effectiveness of flu shots is estimated at 60 percent to 70 percent in a good year, according to an infectious disease specialist from South Carolina.

So, I appear to be one of the 30-40 percent of the "special people" for whom the shot did not offer full protection.

I don't feel horrible, but I am coughing and sniffling and I feel like someone opened a valve in my ankle and let all my energy out.

So, maybe I don't have the full-fledged flu.

Maybe I only have the fluh.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.