Timothy Neidigh Clears Up Misconceptions About The Flu • By Brad Goins
Will getting a flu shot ever give you the flu? Ask family nurse practitioner Timothy Neidigh this question and you’ll find that school is in session. Neidigh has definite opinions about the matter and he doesn’t beat around the bush.
“The flu shot cannot give you the flu,” he says. “It’s impossible.”
There’s a rationale behind Neidigh’s assertions. To understand it all, let’s start by looking at just how it is that flu shots come into existence in the first place.
Neidigh says that in the months leading up to flu season, representatives of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) meet to make educated guesses about what three strains of the flu “are going to kill” the most people in the coming season.
The three strains they decide on are the three strains you’ll be inoculated against when you get your flu shot. And if you get the flu mist, you’ll also be inoculated against the fourth most dangerous strain of flu.
Because the CDC and WHO are constantly evaluating different, and sometimes new, strains of flu, it makes sense to get a flu shot each year. And you’ll never get a strain of the flu you’ve been inoculated against.
“Viruses are very, very good at adapting [to flu shots],” says Neidigh. “They mutate so quickly. That’s why a shot a year [is advisable].”
But no matter what you do, you’ll be never be inoculated against more than four strains of the flu. And there are always many, many more than four strains out there.
“It’s very easy to have a different strain of the flu going around than what you’re protected against,” says Neidigh. “In fact, it’s likely.”
What works in favor of those who have flu shots, says Neidigh, is the fact that all the different strains of the flu “are cousins, so to speak. They’re related.” If you do contract a strain of flu you haven’t been inoculated for, you can be sure you have been inoculated for something that’s very similar. That means that if the strain — the virus — takes hold in you, the symptoms you experience will be far less severe and long-lasting than if you’d never gotten a flu shot.
‘It’s Rarely Just One Thing’
Neidigh seemed skeptical about a recent Daily Advocate report of a “Swine flu outbreak in Louisiana.” Is swine flu the dominant flu strain here now, or will it be in the future?
“That’s very hard to say,” says Neidigh. “There’s so many different strains of flu. And a lot of times people don’t get tested for what strain” they’ve contracted.
Likewise Neidigh is reluctant to make predictions as to how the flu season will develop in Southwest Louisiana. The national press seems agreed that Louisiana has widespread incidence of the flu at present. But will the incidence stay large — or grow even larger?
It’s all but impossible to predict such development, at least with the information we have at present. The way in which a flu season develops, says Neidigh, “is very rarely just one thing. It’s usually multi-factorial.” Factors can range from income levels to child rearing habits to school attendance patterns.
The flu season is generally thought to run — roughly — from October to March. One thing that’s going on in this period is that children have returned to school. If “just one virus” is present in a classroom, says Neidigh, a number of students in a single class may find themselves with the flu.
Neidigh isn’t one to shy away from the fact that the flu can be a fatal disease. While it’s human nature to avoid consideration and discussion of possible death, Neidigh thinks the potential fatality of the flu is also played down because “a lot of people die of the flu, but it’s not documented.”
He explains by drawing a comparison with the disease AIDS. “No one’s ever died from AIDS,” he says. What happens in AIDS deaths is that the victim’s immune system becomes so severely compromised that he eventually succumbs to some other disease — usually a rare and aggressive form of pneumonia.
A similar situation applies to the flu. Those who have it bad will be weakened to the point that they contract some other disease, and possibly one that’s fatal. And flu can exacerbate long-standing risky conditions, such as emphysema, cancer or immune-suppressed conditions.
The 48-Hour Window
Neidigh says even those who think they have the flu can still take medical measures to protect themselves against the disease — but only if they act fast. If you think you really may have the flu, don’t wait a day or two to see whether it gets better.
“If you think you have flu symptoms, it’s very important to see a provider within 48 hours,” says Neidigh. “Anti-viral medication can reduce the length and severity [of the flu]. But it must be given within 48 hours.”
Otherwise, says Neidigh, it’s all about going back to what your mother told you to do — get lots of rest and fluids and take Tylenol. It’s a matter of controlling symptoms and waiting for the disease to go through its course.
A Systematic Approach To Prevention
When Neidigh talks about flu prevention, he offers more practical advice than one usually sees in the host of mass-published flu care guides that crop up everywhere this time of year.
First, and most important, he says, is to wash your hands.
Second, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use tissues, a handkerchief or the crook of the arm. The use of the crook of the arm decreases the chances that one’s hand will become infectious.
Third, “stay away from big, crowded areas.”
The fourth point is especially important to Neidigh, who thinks that the lackluster economics of Louisiana sometimes keep sick, infectious workers going to work because they feel they can’t afford not too. “I’ve had many people tell me, ‘If I don’t work, I’m going to be in so much trouble.’”
But, says Neidigh, “employers should not give employees a hard time about staying home when they’re sick — especially during flu time. If that person infects everyone else [in the workplace], you’re going to be out a lot of money.”
He also emphasizes that he advocates this stance only in regard to diseases that are infectious. If a worker had, say, a twisted knee and “wanted to work through the pain,” Neidigh would be inclined to let him, because he’s not likely to hurt others with such a condition.
Of course, another obvious measure of prevention is provided by the flu shot. The list of those who shouldn’t get flu vaccines for health reasons is pretty short. Children under six months old shouldn’t get it. Those who are allergic to eggs should avoid it. While extreme reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare, those who’ve had such reactions should not get the shot.
As for that old bugaboo of determining whether you really have the flu or just a bad cold, Neidigh has a few pointers. Part of the challenge is that the symptoms of both illnesses — fever, body aches, fatigue and a cough — are the same.
The difference, says Neidigh, is that with the flu, the body aches and fatigue are far more severe than with a cold. With a flu, these symptoms can knock out the sufferer and make him feel that it’s all but impossible to get out of bed.
One Way To Avoid Crowds
Neidigh is a family nurse practitioner. Although he does some work for the Pediatric Center in Sulphur, his primary occupation is that of a practitioner who makes house calls. He runs a company called HealthSmart House Calls.
I’d think the biggest appeal of house calls would be that they save people who don’t feel up to travelling about and doing business the trouble of going to a doctor. But when I discuss the matter with Neidigh, he leads with another advantage.
He says that house calls keep patients out of crowds — in particular the crowds of coughing, hacking, sneezing people waiting in doctor’s offices. Neidigh thinks that sitting around in such a crowd could increase an individual’s chance of getting the flu 50 fold.
Neidigh says house calls by practitioners are more common in big cities than in the Lake Area. But in those big cities, they can come at a steep price — sometimes $250 a visit. He says that 80 percent of the house calls he makes in the Lake Area have a price tag of $100 or less.
Neidigh first conceived of his business 10 years ago, when he was in private practice in Jennings. He’s been running it as his primary business for four years. If you’d like to know more about HealthSmart House Calls, call 905-6895 or email HealthSmartHouseCalls @yahoo.com. The enterprise also has a Facebook page.