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Conspiracy theories more dangerous than swine flu?

To immunize or not to immunize?

That seems to be the question that keeps cropping up into every conversation that I have lately, and it's all thanks to the H1N1 scare.

As the wave of the H1N1 pandemic roots itself in Canada and vaccination clinics open their doors, the conspiracy theories around the vaccine vary from really wacky to absolutely frightening.

The vaccine will give you the flu; it’ll cause autism or Gulf War Syndrome; it’s a plot by pharmaceutical companies to make money. The weirdest one I came across is from a former Quebec physician that was stripped of her medical license, Ghislaine Lanctot.

In a pamphlet titled Vaccination 101, she wrote, “The impending massive vaccination (2009) is the direct result of a pseudo-pandemic of swine flu (A-H1N1) officially declared by the UN. The long term ploy of the global elite is to reduce the world population to 500 million. The new vaccines contain an extremely vicious cocktail of avian, swine, and human influenza viruses”.

Lanctot’s allegations are at best insane and at worst calculatedly dangerous, but they need mentioning because they serve as a reminder of the type of influences acting on the public.

It would be easy to dismiss her and her half-baked ravings as psychotic, but many people are being exposed to this and even more innocent-sounding anti-vaccination rhetoric.

Simply put, the vaccination is not a secret government conspiracy, nor does it contain a live virus, so you cannot contract influenza from it.

As B.C.’s health officer, Perry Kendall stated, “We’ve gone through extensive safety tests with this vaccine. We would not be recommending a vaccine that we did not think was safe.”

I believe what is scaring people the most is the scare-for-ratings media coverage and the word “pandemic”.

An influenza pandemic is just an epidemic of the influenza virus that spreads on a worldwide scale. A pandemic will happen very irregularly compared to seasonal flu epidemics and usually when a new strain of influenza virus is transmitted to humans. These new strains are unaffected by any immunity people may have to older strains of influenza and can spread quickly, infecting large numbers of people.

Like the seasonal flu, H1N1 can infect anyone, but so far there are no facts suggesting that it is worse than seasonal influenza. Also like any flu, people can die, but most will not. There have been 95 H1N1 deaths in Canada so far and, while that number may sound high, Dr. Theresa Tams, chief of respiratory disease with the Center for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control, estimates that 700 to 2,500 people die each year from seasonal influenza in Canada.

The majority of young, otherwise healthy people will recover from H1N1 with just some basic TLC. Those at greatest risk are children under five, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems (such as cancer and AIDS patients) and the elderly.

It is our responsibility to be informed, and once the facts (the vaccine is an egg-based technology containing particles of dead virus) are separated from the fiction (the vaccine is a government plot to control the world's population), the choice shouldn’t be difficult to make.

But even with all the information, the question still stands…

Should I get vaccinated?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that it’s something that should be taken seriously. Discuss it with your loved ones, and most of all, your health care provider.

After all the choice is ours to make, and now is the time to make it.