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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some Thoughts about H1N1, Vaccines, and Distrust of Doctors

Well, I think I'm finally getting over the flu. Frankly, I thought I was all better on Saturday, but that proved not to be the case. For those of you curious about this strain of flu and how it goes, here is how it went for me.

Monday night into Tuesday: I was coughing some. I decided that I wasn't sick, because I felt 100% fine otherwise, things were very normal, and I'm a chronic hypochondriac. I went to work. Things were normal. Everything was fine.

Tuesday Afternoon into Evening: The cough never got worse, but I started feeling tired and sluggish around 3:30 or 4pm on Tuesday. I was full of dread. I just FELT SICK. I went home, and told co-workers that I thought I was coming down with something and that I would likely stay home Wednesday, just in case, and work from home. I still felt that weird tired/fatigue/sick feeling in the drive home, and then arrived home and took my temperature - 98.8, not a fever, and I wasn't coughing much and I just felt tired. I decided that I was building it up in my head, and making excuses about why I shouldn't run. I forced myself on the treadmill, allowing myself to get off if I felt bad. This is also because when I had Influenza B in 2005, I first discovered I was sick because I couldn't stop coughing during step aerobics. So, I figured a run would be the true test of my health. I ended up quitting after 2 miles, because while I really wasn't coughing at all, I still felt that fatigue feeling, and it was getting worse, as if I'd hit the wall in a marathon. Temperature after the run was 99.5, still techinically not a fever, and I don't usually take my temperature before and after a run so I have no idea how running affects my body temperature on a regular day. As the night wore on, I felt more and more tired, still had a mild cough, and almost felt "out of it."

Wednesday: No doubt about it, I was sick. I actually don't remember what a lot of my symptoms were because I was still out of it. I know that my temperature went up to 100.2 and stayed there. I know that I was tired, and I slept the majority of the day. I woke up around 9am, went back to bed at 9:30, woke up at 2pm and ate some soup, went back to bed at 3pm, woke up at 6pm and ate some more soup, and then went to bed at about 8 or 9pm. I had a wicked-bad sore throat, worse than with a normal cold. I still wasn't coughing too much, but I did have some body aches.

Thursday: A lot like Wednesday. I tried to do some more work and be more conscious, since I have deadlines and such. I still ended up sleeping most of the morning. Temperature remained at 100.2. Sore throat started to feel better, though. Around 5pm or so, my fever dropped to 99.4 and continued to drop throughout the night. Coughing was increasing, and I was starting to get a lot of 'gunk' in my throat.

Friday: My temperature was a reasonable 98.9 again. I was still tired, but I was forcing myself to be awake and work. Sore throat was gone, and I was coughing a whole lot. Cough, cough, cough.

Saturday: Things were looking good. I was feeling almost normal. Coughing a lot, but my assumption was that I was at the tail end of things and had no worries. Todd and I went out for the day. We had a good time. I was feeling great, like I was done and recovering. Then, Saturday evening, the coughing increased by a LOT. I started sneezing, sniffling, mucus... ugh. It was like in the movies when they show a fight and the one guy beats up the other guy and the winner starts to walk away and you think he's done, but then he turns around and BAM, punches the loser one more time. Or, it was like having a head cold and a chest cold at the same time.

Sunday: I spent the day dealing with snot, sniffles, sneezes and coughs. Still tired, took a short nap, and I still tried to get some work done.

Monday: At 5am, I woke up with a cough to end all coughs, which brought up all kinds of disgusting things. I forced myself up and to work, and I coughed, sneezed, and sniffled all day. I drank a lot of hot tea, which helped. I was still exhausted, but better.

Today: A lot of coughing last night, a lot of coughing this morning, but things are better. I'm breathing better, I feel better. I am going to the running store tonight to try to get in a slow run. I really want to be back on the horse.

There you have it, that's what H1N1 did for me.

So, what do I think of H1N1?

Well, I've always taken it seriously, and I don't actually feel like the media is blowing it too much out of proportion. Did they blow Michael Jackson's death out of proportion? Yes. H1N1? Not so much, in my opinion. At least, the coverage isn't something I'm going to complain about now that I know how truly contagious it is. I did everything right, hygeine-wise, in Florida. I washed my hands regularly (obsessively, As Good As it Gets obsessively). I sang the Happy Birthday song while washing my hands to be sure that I did it long enough. I took Clorox wipes with us, and wiped down the armrests, tray tables, etc, on the plane after we sat down. I bathed myself in Purell reguarly, and didn't touch my nose, face, eyes, etc with dirty hands. When we got to our hotel room, we wiped the room down with the Clorox wipes - from the remote controls to the doorknobs to the light switches. Everything. The only holes in my plan were that we had to eat out, and that I took water from water stops during the 13K.

The fact that I took such drastic precautions and STILL got this virus tells me that this is something to be taken seriously. It is very contagious. On Tuesday, I apparently made one, possibly 2 of my co-workers sick, even though I felt fine and had no real symptoms.

The thing is, you can't get the vaccine right now. If you could, I would have gotten it, but there has been nowhere to go to get it. I'm not in the high risk category. It sucks, because I would have had the vaccine a month ago if it had been available to me.

So, because of all of this I was looking up some information on vaccines, and how some folks really don't want to get it because they think it's dangerous. Really? I disagree. Here's why: This is the same flu vaccine, different strain. The same flu vaccine that I've gotten almost every year since 1997, the same one that never makes me sick, and made the same way. It's as if you always make chili with ground beef and someone asks you to make it with ground turkey instead. It's the same recipe, one ingredient has changed. In my opinion, it's safe, or at least much safer than the flu is.

Why do we distrust vaccines so much? Why do we distrust doctors so much? I don't understand the trend of people feeling like they know so much more about medicine than doctors do. It's like someone does a google search and then assumes that they know everything about medicine, and they can make calls better than someone who went through medical school.

Get the flu shot. Get the H1N1 vaccine. Have your kids vaccinated. Understand the difference between a valid medical study and an invalid one. For example, check out Wow, Dihydrogen Monoxide sounds dangerous, huh? Yeah, well, it's water. Everything on that site is true, but the site uses scare tactics and frightening wording to make water sound like it should be banned. This can be done with anything. And this is the kind of non-science that people are believing these days. It really saddens me.

Another good read, check out Slate's article, A Pox on You, where a mom discusses how her immunity-challenged son can't go to the daycare that he wants to because other children there are not vaccinated. Unvaccinated children are a danger, and in my opinion you shouldn't be able to opt out of certain vaccines because you don't believe in them, or because you read on the internet that somebody said they're bad.

Slate published another article yesterday, Blowing the Shot, which talks about why the vaccine has taken so long to be distributed, and frankly why I got H1N1, because if the vaccine had been available, I'd have gotten it.

And finally, if you do and read nothing else, read this article from a family physician. It discusses the H1N1 vaccine, why it is safe, and why you should get the vaccine. It is the most unbiased source I've found, while still being from a credible source. It is a good article.

There is little chance that H1N1 will kill you or even be serious to you. The symptoms that I had are the norm. However, the people who are getting very sick and dying are often young and healthy. Do you really want to take that risk with your children? Do you really want to take that risk if you're a pregnant mom? You buy a million and one baby-proofing devices for your house, you walk your kids to the bus stop so that they won't get kidnapped. You use car seats, you do everything else, but you won't get them vaccinated for a potentially deadly disease? This blows my mind.

Even worse are the other vaccines - MMR, etc. I think the problem is that we live in a world where most of us don't remember people dying from diseases like Smallpox and Polio. Do you know why that is?? Vaccines.

I don't know. I don't have kids. I've had all of my shots, including some I don't necessarily need (I've had Hepatitis and Typhoid, and I'll probably soon get Japanese Encephalitis). Mayne this is another place where I just "don't get it" because I don't have children, and I should just be speaking to adults and asking them to get vaccinated.

Regardless, I'm better now.


Mary said...

*standing up and clapping*

I think you're exactly right and the origins of all this medical paranoia come from one fundamental source. We as humans are notoriously bad at evaluating risk. So we worry a ton about stuff that is kind of a remote risk--such as a bad reaction to a vaccine--and less about stuff, such as a car accident, that we are, statistically speaking, a much higher risk. And since fear of knowledge and science is part of our cultural zeitgeist right now, this is how it comes out. But I agree with you, I don't really get it either. Doing your own research is good for asking reasonable questions of your doctors, but not so much for actually MAKING MEDICAL DECISIONS.

Nick said...

A-men, as an immunity challenged person, please get immunized. I look awful in a Biohazard suit, it makes my ass look huge.

Laura said...

Very well put...My boss and I have used the term 'Pademonium' a lot over the last few weeks but it is very serious. In Canada, they have had clinics available for high risk only and the demand was overwhelming - lineups of 3hrs+. My husband was recently in the hospital and when we asked the specialist about getting the vaccine, he unequivocably said to get it, especially because of my husband's weakened immune system.

Wacky Neighbor said...

Well, it's a few things:

1. In 1976, during a similar flu epidemic, there was an uptick in Guillain-Barre syndrome which was linked to the vaccine (although I don't know that there was a proven causal relationship). There was some early concern from people who remember the 1976 epidemic about Guillain-Barre, although I don't know of any cases of this documented in 2009 (at least related to the flu or the vaccine).

2. Over the last decade, there have been many articles and testimonials about the link between childhood vaccinations and autism. While (1) the alleged causal factor - that some vaccines contained the preservative thimerasol, which contained small amounts of mercury - has never been proven, (2) thimerasol has been removed from vaccines and autism rates have not declined, (3) regular mercury poisoning has never been linked to autism, and (4) the only studies alleging to prove such a link are junk, none of these facts have seemed to have an effect on the belief that vaccines cause autism. Why people are listening to Jenny McCarthy (perhaps the most public proponent of such the vaccine-autism connection) and not doctors, scientists, or researchers is the topic for another blog.

3. I also blame Glenn Beck - for this and in general. I figured Beck would come out against the vaccine and cause a mild stir or more (although the discussion that perhaps the government was implanting us with something else was not something I predicted).

4. I think that the government (CDC, HHS) has not done a very good job communicating about what is being done and what people should do about H1N1. I think they could have done more to reduce confusion, especially about the distribution of the vaccine. It also has not made things clearer when doctors or other health care providers have publicly or privately come out against getting the vaccine (whether they know anything more than we do or not). I think the fact that you have a vaccine that they were rushing to create and get into production, as well as an emphasis on vaccinating children and pregnant women, also contributed to a lot of worrying.

5. I also agree with Mary that we, as humans, are horrible at properly judging risk.

6. I don't know - a lot of things could have been done better, but certainly better communication and information would have helped (although short of better production of the vaccine, I don't know that much else would have kept more people from getting the flu or dying from it). I feel like this is almost a trial run of sorts for a more serious epidemic in the future, so hopefully we're learning something right now.

Kim said...

I never heard Glenn Beck, but then again I usually disregard anything that he says.

You know, I know very little about autism and I don't claim for even one second to be able to relate to it or to having a child with autism. However, from what I do know, it sounds a lot like the type of programming that I do where something isn't working, you don't understand why. You spend hours trying to figure it out, days even. Doing EVERYTHING you can think of. You ask others. Nothing works. Then, suddenly, the problem goes away and you have no idea how you fixed it.

What I mean is, we don't seem to understand what causes autism, or how it's cured, except that some people get it, and some people seem to recover from certain remedies and we don't know why. It's very strange.

I don't, however, think it is vaccines causing the issue. It seems to be a much higher risk that your child will die from the disease that the vaccine is going to prevent than that the child will have complications. But, that's just me.

If you read the comments on the H1N1 article from the doctor that I posted, he is asked about autism and vaccines and provides some studies on the subject (while he is unbiased on the H1N1 vaccine, he is biased towards other vaccines such as MMR and doesn't think they cause autism).

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