Flu Shot Beats Leeches and Bloodletting

The other evening I did what I consider my civic duty every fall: I got my flu shot.

Of all of the vaccinations administered every year, the flu vaccine is the only one that has to be given annually — this is because there are so many different sub-strains within strains A, B,  and C that coming up with one that targets what will most likely be the most virulent is a painstaking, continual process.

The ultimate goal is to develop a universal vaccine, one that is either given only once in a lifetime, or once with a series of boosters, like the DPT and MMR vaccines.

But, personally, I’m not complaining, especially since past methods to rid the population of influenza have been creepy to downright terrifying.

During the throes of the 1918 flu pandemic, physicians tried various unorthodox methods of treating the illness — health officials didn’t realize it was a viral borne illness until the 1930s.  So they tried “blood letting” — which means they literally tried to force the illness to bleed out of the patient’s system.  Didn’t work.

Some resorted to hydrogen peroxide IVs, which did nothing to assuage the ferocity of the illness and caused fatalities.

One doctor  came up with a “cocktail” injection containing blister fluid, caffeine, strychnine and morphine; still others tried injecting the typhoid vaccine into their patients.  The latter method actually stimulates immune reaction and likely contributed to even faster patient demise.

Then, doctors came up with what was actually the first crude form of the flu vaccine:  the blood transfusion.  They transferred the blood of a recovered patient, which contained antibodies to fight the virus, into that of a patient still ailing, and recovery rates improved.

World War I exacerbated the worldwide spread of the flu; after discovering that the flu was viral borne, the US Military created the first influenza vaccine.  This kept the disease contained during World War II.

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