I’m currently reading (amongst the other 25 books I’m reading) Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes, and the “Immigrant Menace” by Alan M. Kraut. The book is a fascinating historical look at how epidemics are spread, and the politics and class issues that are involved in determining the cause and treatment of epidemics.
While reading the book, I started thinking about my great-grandmother, who was a nurse during the 1918 Flu Epidemic. According to family records, she took care of many flu patients, including her dying husband. But she never caught the flu.
I’ve thought about the possible reasons for this.
1. She was exposed to the flu early on, and was able to build up antibodies.
2. She inherited a gene or genes that rendered her immune to the flu.
3. She had an immunity to the flu that was the result of a genetic mutation.
4. She just luckily never came in contact with the flu “germ”. (However, this seems highly unlikely due to the highly contagious nature of the flu and the fact that she was in close contact with flu patients.)
Now that I think of it, I never caught the chicken pox, even though I was exposed to it several times throughout my life. It was thought that maybe I had caught the chicken pox and my symptoms were so mild that a rash didn’t appear. However, when I was in my 20s and was tested prior to receiving the vaccine, my blood showed no signs of ever having chicken pox.
So is it possible that I inherited an immunity to certain “bugs”? Could chicken pox and the 1918 flu have some similarities? Or is it coincidental that my great-grandmother never caught the 1918 flu and I never caught chicken pox? I’d like to think I’ve inherited an immunity – that sounds good to me!