Friday 11 January 2013

I've gone viral

That is the first thing the nurse practitioner told me. It breaks the ice when you start with a joke.

Yours truly has some unnamed "super cold" which is making the rounds. The description of such a condition is unpleasant and involves such keywords as phlegm and pus. Heck, I don't even like saying those words out loud. Not that the full meaning sounds any better: "thick viscous substance secreted by the mucous membranes of the respiratory passages". Eew!

I am out of commission for this entire week for sure. My chance, as the nurse said, to catch up on daytime TV. Unfortunately, along with the usual symptoms, this also gets into the eyes and people are thinking they have contracted conjunctivitis. They haven't but one's eyes are puffy and sort of hurt.

I could go on and on. (And will if given half a chance. You are now warned.)

This dutiful employee will stay at home and keep his infectious personality to himself. It sometimes makes me wonder if not ticks me off when sick people come back to work early in my opinion because they can't afford the time off or maybe they're just bored. Hey Fred, nice to see you back at work you bastard infect me, will ya!?!

At least I can count my blessings: I don't have the flu. I am now contractually limited to only two of the three P gross-out words: phlegm, pus, and puke. I have sounded in the past week like I've been trying to hack up a lung, but so far any oral discharges have been merely Charles Dickens, not Wayne's World: great expectorations, no hurling. I'm still wondering if the apartment overhead is going to start pounding on the floor in the middle of the night to get me to shut the hell up. I would certainly like to oblige but when the coughing jag takes over, there ain't nuttin' to be done but hack, hack, hack.

The nurse practitioner started off my examination by saying something curious: medical science is limited in what it can do for viral infections. Yep, it would seem that against this nasty little critter, the best we collectively do is rest and let our bodies do their thing.

Flashback to twenty years ago when I was at the tender age of 40. I had a bout with the flu that had me barfing my brains out like there was no tomorrow.

Wait. When you found yourself on this page, did you really want a blow by blow description of my bodily fluids? Ah, but my wit and charm will keep you enthralled. Or is more like a traffic accident where you can't tear your eyes away?

Anyway, I couldn't keep anything down. And I was so dizzy, I couldn't stay upright very long or I'd get sick to my stomach and... you get the picture. After three days of this, my father picked me up and got me into emergency for the once over. The results showed me dehydrated so they keep me overnight on I.V.

I recovered at my parents' house under the watchful eye of Mom. Oh mothers, bless every one of their hearts everywhere. Never was sickness so bearable that when it was interrupted by the occasional placing of the hand on the forehead to check for fever, or the head in the door to ask, "How are doing?, or the indent on the mattress as she sat and watched me sit up to try and eat something off the tray she had brought. Oh when I wanted to cut a piece of wood in the table saw, Dad was the man to go to. But when I was sick, Lord I wanted my Mommy. The family had this nifty adjustable table for beds. The counter-support slid under the bed while the table slid over the bed and you could modify the height as necessary. It was great for illness or for eating in bed and watching TV. Good buy, Dad.

My father was a medical professional so I thought to benefit from my convalescence by perusing his medical reference library. What I discovered was a little scary. Yes, we have some vaccines and yes, there are some antiviral drugs, but for the most part, the course of action is to rest and let the body heal itself. Wait. No "magic pill"? And if somebody says "magic bullet" should I take it the situation is so grave, we are now considering euthanasia?

The nurse practitioner reminded me of what I discovered twenty years ago. I took the time to read some of the latest articles on virus, vaccinations, and antiviral drugs and while the results all sound promising, if you think we can walk into the doctor's office and pick up Remedy X, take two of these after ever meal for three days and you're cured, you're dreaming in Technicolor.

Twenty years ago, the media was abuzz about the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics work against bacteria but do nothing against viruses. It seemed at this time experts were noting a rise in the prescription of antibiotics and a rise in bacteria resistant to said treatments. The nurse practitioner suggested a follow up visit next week and at that time one would assess me as to whether I should start an antibiotic. I immediately questioned this. She explained that the lungs become clogged with phlegm and that moist substance can become a fertile breeding ground for bacteria. So, even though I am suffering a viral infection and must rest and let my body do its thing, an antibiotic may become necessary to combat the secondary complication of a bacterial infection. Go figure. Get sick. Then get sicker.

If you read this blog, you know that one thing I can't stand is people making unsubstantiated claims. Say what you want but please be able to back up your arguments. Two plus two does not equal five and I can prove it.

People like Oprah and Jenny McCarthy have rallied against vaccinations saying they cause autism. (see my blog: What the @#$%^* do I know? 2012-01-03) What's curious about this is that neither Oprah or Jenny are medical experts and the medical community says vaccinations do not cause autism. What you do find out is that vaccinations have eradicated smallpox, almost eradicated polio. Infections caused by Haemophilus influenzae, a major cause of bacterial meningitis and other serious diseases in children, have decreased by over 99% in the US since the introduction of a vaccine in 1988. Fully vaccinating all US children born in a given year from birth to adolescence saves an estimated 33,000 lives and prevents an estimated 14 million infections. (Wikipedia: Vaccine controversies:Effectiveness)

Nevertheless, this idea that vaccinations are so dangerous every mother must make the earth-shattering decision as to whether or not have their children vaccinated seems to persist. In my blog (Sep 2011): She's here to help: Michele Bachmann, at your cervix, I recount how Michele Bachmann, an excellent example of oxygen deprivation at birth, contradicts the experts. Medical science backed up by statistical evidence shows that by taking the HPV vaccine, you can reduce the number of deaths from cervical cancer by thousands. Bachmann wanted to vote against the vaccine as she met a "tearful" woman who claimed her daughter developed mental retardation after being vaccinated against HPV. I know a guy who got a speeding ticket after his last flu shot. Do vaccines make you drive like James Bond?

Jenny McCarthy, Michele Bachmann, it's like shooting ducks in a barrel. How unfortunate there are many people who believe in their messages. My point is the following book which I have not yet read.

The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin


In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist with a history of self-promotion, published a paper with a shocking allegation: the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine might cause autism. The media seized hold of the story and, in the process, helped to launch one of the most devastating health scares ever. In the years to come Wakefield would be revealed as a profiteer in league with class-action lawyers, and he would eventually lose his medical license. Meanwhile one study after another failed to find any link between childhood vaccines and autism.

Yet the myth that vaccines somehow cause developmental disorders lives on. Despite the lack of corroborating evidence, it has been popularized by media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jenny McCarthy and legitimized by journalists who claim that they are just being fair to “both sides” of an issue about which there is little debate. Meanwhile millions of dollars have been diverted from potential breakthroughs in autism research, families have spent their savings on ineffective “miracle cures,” and declining vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough. Most tragic of all is the increasing number of children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Final Word
Get lots of rest. Drink plenty of liquids. And maybe I'll start to use more paper on toilet seats in public washrooms. Life is big. Life is complicated. We ourselves must become better informed so we can take better care of ourselves.

A few years back, public health started this campaign I now see everywhere advising people to cough in their sleeve during flu season to reduce the spreading germs. A few times when this advisory has been repeated at work, I have joked to my colleagues by saying, "Oh that explains why I've been getting strange looks on the subway. I thought it said to cough in somebody else's sleeve."


CTV - Jan 10/2013
40 U.S. states in grips of early, hard-hitting flu season

Wikipedia: Virus
A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of organisms, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea.

Wikipedia: Virus: Prevention and treatment
Because viruses use vital metabolic pathways within host cells to replicate, they are difficult to eliminate without using drugs that cause toxic effects to host cells in general. The most effective medical approaches to viral diseases are vaccinations to provide immunity to infection, and antiviral drugs that selectively interfere with viral replication.

Wikipedia: Vaccination
Vaccination is the administration of antigenic material (a vaccine) to stimulate an individual's immune system to develop adaptive immunity to a pathogen.

Wikipedia: Antiviral drug
Antiviral drugs (antivirotics) are a class of medication used specifically for treating viral infections. Like antibiotics for bacteria, specific antivirals are used for specific viruses. Unlike most antibiotics, antiviral drugs do not destroy their target pathogen; instead they inhibit their development.

WebMD: Bacterial and Viral Infections
Although bacteria and viruses are both too small to be seen without a microscope, they're structurally as different as giraffes and goldfish.

Bacteria are relatively complex, single-celled creatures with a rigid wall and a thin, rubbery membrane surrounding the fluid or cytoplasm inside the cell. Shaped like balls, rods, or spirals, they contain all of the genetic information needed to make copies of themselves. Fossilized records show that bacteria have existed for about 3.5 billion years, and it's known that bacteria can survive in a variety of environments, including extreme heat and cold, radioactive waste, and the human body.

Most bacteria are harmless, and some -- such as the Lactobacilli acidophilus bacteria that can live in the human intestine -- actually help digest food, destroy disease-causing microbes, fight cancer cells, and provide essential nutrients. Fewer than 1% of bacteria cause disease in people.

In contrast, viruses are tiny: the largest of them are smaller than the smallest bacteria. Viruses come in varied shapes, and have a limited genetic blueprint. All they have is a protein coat and a core of genetic material: either RNA or DNA. Unlike bacteria, viruses can't survive without a host. They can only reproduce by attaching themselves to cells and hijacking the cells' cellular machinery. In most cases, they reprogram the cells to make new viruses until the cells burst and die. In other cases, they turn normal cells into malignant or cancerous cells.

Also unlike bacteria, most viruses do cause disease, and they're quite specific about the cells they attack. For example, certain viruses are programmed to attacks cells in the liver, respiratory system, or blood. In some cases, viruses called bacteriophages target bacteria.

Wikipedia: Andrew Wakefield
Andrew Jeremy Wakefield (born 1957) is a British former surgeon and medical researcher, known for his fraudulent 1998 research paper in support of the now-discredited claim that there is a link between the administration of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the appearance of autism and bowel disease.
Wakefield's study and public recommendations against the use of the combined MMR vaccine were linked to a steep decline in vaccination rates in the United Kingdom and a corresponding rise in measles cases, resulting in serious illness and fatalities.

Wikipedia: Seth Mnookin
Seth Mnookin (born April 27, 1972) is an American writer and journalist. As of 2012, he is the co-director of MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair (magazine) and a blogger on the Public Library of Science blog network.


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