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Vitals & Bits #18: The Amygdala (Special Flu Shot Edition)

Or don’t get a shot. Whatever.
Or don’t get a shot. Whatever.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. At least, that’s what your amygdalae are telling you to do. These two almond-shaped neural hotspots are groups of nuclei (or clustered neurons) deep in the middle of your brain, one on each side.

One of the best ways to learn about what a specific brain region does is to study a person in which that region has been destroyed. People with a damaged prefrontal cortex lose judgment and personality, while people who’ve knocked out Wernicke’s area can’t understand language. The hippocampus is often obliterated in Alzheimer’s patients, which is why they suffer memory dysfunction. And the amygdalae? These little puppies play a role in learning and emotion, particularly fear. Injure your amygdalae and conquer your fear!

JK. Seriously. Don’t do that.

Today, my amygdalae began tweeting to me as I pondered the onslaught of the upcoming flu season. It’s supposed to be a bad one, and there I’ll be in clinic, being coughed upon, sneezed upon, barfed upon, yelled at by cranky patients, and scolded by overworked colleagues. Flu season really activates my fear response, as it should yours.

Actually, I take that back. I don’t want to steal the politicians’ strategy of the manipulating you with fear. Flu season shouldn’t activate your fear response as it does mine. After all, you won’t be facing the waiting rooms crammed with unhappy people (unless, of course, you fail to get your flu shot and wind up in a waiting room yourself). Instead, flu season should activate the above-mentioned prefrontal cortex. This is the executive center of your brain, the planner and decision-maker, the smart librarian-looking lady with the black-rimmed glasses who, like a calculator, can look at a situation and weigh the pros and cons, the risks and benefits, the good and bad, without messing up even one little hair in her perfect French twist. Yes, the prefrontal cortex, your brain’s inner librarian lady. She can tell you the cold hard facts about how the benefits of the flu shot outweigh the risks. She can do so coolly, objectively, without emotion or fear. Here are the facts, my child. At the very least, even if you were never destined to get sick, a flu shot can prevent you from being a carrier that spreads the virus to others. The flu shot can save you a miserable weekend spent in bed, or an ER bill, or a hospital bill. It can even save your life. And the risks are nanoscopic. Now go in peace, my child.

One more thing. When you go get your flu shot, don’t forget to take granny and the kids with you. A new study found that kids who contracted H1N1 last year were more likely to suffer neurologic problems than kids who just got seasonal flu. A second round of H1N1 is predicted to make a comeback this year, and the new batch of flu shots contain protection against H1N1. Another study found that flu shots actually decrease risk of heart attack in older adults. So maybe crazy Great Aunt Agnes can avoid that third triple-bypass she’s been working on.

For those of you who develop an overly stimulated amygdala at the thought of shelling out money for a vaccine, relax. The University of New Mexico is offering free flu shot clinics to the public. Here’s a list of time, dates, and locations you can swing by to get your annual free poke.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center 2010 schedule for free flu shots for the public:

Saturday, Sept. 25, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

UNM LoboCare/Senior Health Clinic

1101 Medical Arts Ave. NE

Saturday, October 2, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

UNM Family Health Clinic - University Area

1209 University Blvd. NE

Saturday, October 9, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

UNM Westside Clinic

4808 McMahon Blvd. NW

Saturday, October 16, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

UNM Southeast Heights Clinic

8200 Central Ave. SE

Saturday, October 23, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This is UNM's annual drive thru clinic

UNM Family Practice Center (parking lot)

2400 Tucker NE

Saturday, October 30, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

UNM Northeast Heights Clinic

7801 Academy Blvd., NE

Public Comments (1)
  • Pregnant women, the flu shot, and the amygdala telling you lies!  [ Fri Sep 24 2010 5:57 PM ]

    Don't forget our pregnant women who DEFINITELY need the flu shot! This year's vaccine will have 3 strains: the H1N1, the H3N2 and influenza B.

    And another thing, do not, I REPEAT, DO NOT let your amygdala scare you into thinking the flu shot makes you sick! The injectable flu shot is inactivated meaning the viruses are not able to make you sick. Because of this, the flu shot is recommended for those 6 mo. and older especially those people with chronic conditions.

    The intranasal flu vaccine is a little different. The CDC states: "The nasal-spray flu vaccine —a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for "live attenuated influenza vaccine" or FluMist®). LAIV (FluMist®) is approved for use in healthy* people 2-49 years of age who are NOT pregnant".

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