healthcare

The flu is not just a more severe cold…

Picture it. Christmas day 2013. I lived near San Antonio, Texas with Bill, Zane, and Arran. Bill’s mom, who also lived near San Antonio, came to our house to help us celebrate the holiday, then went to Houston visit her sister and brother-in-law.

That year, people living in Texas were being assaulted by the H1N1 virus, popularly known as “swine flu”. Many people in Texas, including at least one teenager, died that year of the flu. Bill still had about six months on active duty, so he got a flu shot. I did not get one, because I live like a recluse. We went out to lunch on the Riverwalk with Bill’s high school friend, his wife, and a few other people, one of whom was visibly sick. By that evening, I was sick, too. I don’t know if I had swine flu or some other strain, but given that over 90% of the flu cases in Texas that year were, in fact, caused by H1N1, I am assuming that’s what I had. It was HELL.

The flu is not an illness I get very often, because I seem to have been blessed with a pretty strong immune system and I really don’t spend a lot of time in close contact with other people. But I do remember very vividly how being sick with the flu felt in 2013. First, I suddenly felt like I had been hit by a truck. My muscles ached. My bones creaked. I was exhausted. Then, I developed a hacking cough and a high fever. Next came the vomiting and diarrhea. I spent a solid week in bed, shivering under the covers; the worst day was midway through, when every single swine flu symptom seemed to strike at once. It took me a few weeks to completely get over the flu, which caused persistent fatigue and a lingering hacking cough so severe that I would regularly vomit.

I was blogging in 2013. I see from posts on my original blog, Bill got sick first. He was only sick for a couple of days and was basically functional. I, on the other laid, was laid out for at least a week. By that, I mean I couldn’t stand to be out of bed for longer than a few minutes at a time. It was most definitely NOT a cold. I have had a lot of colds, but none made me as sick as that flu did. Fortunately, all it did was make me miserable for a few weeks. I did not get so seriously ill that I needed to be in the hospital or developed a complication like pneumonia. Some people are not that lucky.

This was actually a doctored version of the meme that’s been going around… This particular version had the punchline that the lesson is not to hang around with your grandparents.

Recently, there’s been a meme that has been floating around Facebook depicting a young, healthy man who skipped the flu shot. He got sick and survived, but his grandmother did not. The meme’s point is that when you get a flu shot, it’s not just for you. Your body fights a dead or inactive version of the virus, which raises your body’s defenses so if an active virus invades your body, it will be ready to fight it off. Then you help develop herd immunity, which makes spreading diseases to immuno-compromised people less likely. Herd immunity is a real thing. It’s very important, since not everyone can get vaccines. Vaccinations are best given to healthy people who have fully functioning immune systems. Very young babies, people with certain health conditions, people who are allergic to components of the vaccines, and some elderly people cannot be safely vaccinated. So healthy people who are vaccinated help protect those vulnerable people from getting seriously ill.

Last night, I ran across a follow up status update about why flu shots are important. The person who wrote the update is a nurse. She’s seen her share of people who have died from the flu and its complications. She explains why, when you get vaccinated against the flu, you’re actually showing concern and compassion for your fellow man. Naturally, I could not resist reading the comments, some of which were shockingly ignorant and snarky. One person wrote this:

I am 100% pro-vaccine. Myself, my husband and our son is 100% up-to-date on every shot that’s available. However. I do not agree with the fear tactic used to convince people to get the flu shot. The flu is just a harsh version of the common cold. Both viruses change constantly. Too consistently for me to trust the vaccine they just made brand new that year. Just because it’s “improved” doesn’t mean the virus won’t change its chemical composition in a few weeks and that vaccine you just took is no longer helpful to you. I’m not gambling on my 5 year old getting stabbed every single year with a vaccine that isn’t highly proven to work. There’s about a 50/50 chance of you still getting the flu after you’ve received the vaccine for it. I might be more willing to go get it if there was evident PROOF of it actually working, just like all other vaccines. But until then, it’s a hard no in this household.

The person who wrote this shares a Facebook account with her husband. Her profile shows that she’s studied to be a licensed practical nurse, although I have not seen evidence that she has finished her studies. She has also worked at McDonald’s, in nursing homes, and at a livestock yard. When people took her to task about her comments regarding the flu, she repeatedly came back to argue, even accusing some commenters of being “mad” that she has the “right” information that she claims she got from physicians. She followed up with a couple of laughing emojis and posted this:

…y’all are really mad because I simply stated that the “vaccine” they provide every year isn’t a guarantee against the flu because it changes as quickly as the common cold and that’s why there’s no vaccination for it. The flu shot is literally a scientific guess as to which the flu virus is that year which is why it isn’t effective half the time. Mad because I used science instead of the fear tactic y’all try to push. Lol

And this:

Obviously you guys only read the part where I said “it’s a harsh version” and the whole 10 of you got your panties in a bunch over it. Good gravyyyy. Lol go get the shot if you think it actually works, but I’m not going to give in the fear tactic of the rare cases of it being deadly. Over 3 million people get the flu every single year, if getting the flu shot actually did anything then the 6 licensed doctors I have spoken too would have said it works not that “it could help prevent you from getting sick”. Vitamins also help prevent you from getting sick. If it was a true vaccine, we would have eradicated it already. But it’s not, because just like the common cold, it mutates too quickly for us to be able to stop it.

And this:

I’ve already had the flu then my antibodies are just as prepared to fight off the mutated version of the flu as you guys are that rush to go get the “new and improved” version every year. It’s pointless to go get the shot when it doesn’t do diddly squat after a few months. Yeah patients of heart disease are also less likely to have a heart attack/stroke if they exercise regularly and eat proper, quit smoking etc etc. I’ve read more articles about severe side effects from the shot than the pros of it. I was also considered “high risk” for pneumonia after I had my c-section for my son. You can catch pneumonia without having the flu. Those two are grouped together on the top 10 list providing no facts/ science to back up the statement that the pneumonia people have died from is directly in correlation to them having the flu. If getting the flu shot actually made any bit of a difference, shouldn’t the licenses doctors I speak to have said something when I asked “how important is it”? I did my research on my own and still went to numerous doctors asking why and if I NEED to get it. Nobody ever gave me actual statistics to back up the claims that you guys are spouting about. The only thing they have ever said is “it can help prevent getting the flu” Mmmmmmm now correct me if I’m wrong- buuuuut licensed doctors tell you which vaccines are adamant that you get and which ones aren’t. Example- flu shot, chicken pox aren’t adamant because it’s not a big deal. Polio, measles, mumps very adamant about getting because they are a big deal. Go ahead and try to correct 6+ licensed doctors with your MayoClinic degree

Chicken pox is not a big deal? Tell that to anyone who has had a really bad case of shingles. I had a mild case of shingles in 1999, when I was 26 years old. It was miserable, and I didn’t even come close to the nerve pain some people get. I was also fortunate enough to make a complete recovery. Not everyone is that lucky. You get shingles (herpes zoster) after having had the chicken pox. The varicella virus lies dormant in your nerves, waiting for your immune system to be compromised. I got shingles after having had facial cellulitis. Believe me, the cellulitis was enough without the “bonus” of shingles, too. I would have LOVED to have been vaccinated against the chicken pox and spared that experience.

I know the flu vaccine is controversial. To be honest, I have never had one myself. It’s not necessarily because I’m unwilling. I live like a hermit and am rarely around other people except Bill, who does get flu shots. But if I were regularly around more people, I would willingly get a flu shot. I am a believer in the science behind flu vaccines, even though I know that they only protect against certain strains of the virus, which are constantly evolving. I do understand the arguments against getting flu shots, and this post is not me trying to tell anyone to get one. I don’t get them myself, and I don’t like hypocrisy. So get one, or don’t; it should be entirely up to you. What I want to address is the idea that influenza is basically like a more severe cold. It’s not. They are different illnesses, and it’s a fact– flu can and does kill people!

Before I became a bored, overeducated housewife, I studied public health, and had a job as a technical writer for the Bureau of Epidemiology at South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Prior to that job, I worked in Maternal and Child Health, as well as healthcare policy at the same agency. I earned a master’s degree in public health, which is not the same as a medical or nursing degree, but it does expose one to real information about public health issues. The flu is most definitely a public health issue (and on a related note, I really miss working in public health). It was my job to research and write about public health issues and translate data into information accessible to laypeople. So… while it’s been awhile since I was last in the field, I’m not ignorant about the importance of vaccines. The science behind vaccines has been around for hundreds of years and immunizations have saved countless lives.

My first public health boss lost a set of grandparents to influenza. They both got “Spanish flu”, which was a deadly pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus. The Spanish flu struck in 1918 and the epidemic continued until 1920. It infected roughly 500 million people in countries around the globe; between 50 million and 100 million of those who got the virus died. “Spanish flu” was named such because due to World War I, neutral Spain was one of the few countries where reporters were free to report on the spread of the disease, thus giving people the false idea that Spain was especially hard hit by the flu virus. Reporters in other countries were not allowed to report on the spread of the disease because the powers that be were concerned about keeping up morale among soldiers. Consequently, people didn’t realize how dangerous the flu was worldwide– not just in Spain. It spread like wildfire, and sickened and killed a whole lot of people. So much for the evil media, huh?

While most flu usually kills the very young, the very old, or the already very sick, the Spanish flu of the World War I era also killed young, healthy people, making it seem like an especially vicious virus. Years later, researchers determined that the Spanish flu was actually no worse than most other influenza strains. More people died because of the wartime conditions of the day. People were crowded in medical camps, suffering from malnutrition, enduring wartime stresses, and practicing poor hygiene.

Even today, the flu can kill. I remember in 2013, there was news about young people getting the flu and dying of complications from it. Last year, about 80,000 people died of influenza. While statistically speaking, that may not seem like a lot of people when you consider how many people got sick, that’s probably little consolation to those who have lost a loved one to the disease. And even if you don’t die from the flu, it WILL make you miserable for at least a week. There is a difference between the flu and a cold. They have different symptoms. If you feel sick and don’t know what you have, I recommend checking out a reputable public health Web site that will give you a clue as to what impending flu feels like and what is more likely just a cold. Barring that, you could also visit your doctor, although if you don’t actually have the flu, you could be risking exposing yourself by hanging around people who do have it. Remember– medical settings are full of sick people and cold and flu viruses are super easy to share.

This screenshot is from the Centers for Disease Control, which is considered a reputable Web site among most public health agencies. You can find a similar chart on other, reputable Web sites.

It is true that you can get a flu shot and still get sick from influenza. And it is true that you are more likely to die in a car crash than the flu. However, not everyone has the same risks when it comes to getting sick with the flu. If you are around people who are very young, very old, or have compromised immune systems, getting a flu shot is a very kind and considerate thing to do. It helps protect them from getting sick and dying from an illness that most healthy people can fight off more easily. At the very least, please wash your hands frequently and try to stay home if you’re sick. That’s one of the very best ways to protect yourself and others from the spread of communicable diseases. And please, for the love of God, don’t take healthcare advice from a former McDonald’s worker who hasn’t yet finished her LPN degree. Listen to people who know the difference between the flu and the common cold. As for the McDonald’s/livestock yard/nursing home worker, I’m thinking Darwinism might work its magic on her.

So ends todays public service announcement.

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CPS, Police

Guns a blazin’!

A few days ago, I read the story of Arizona parents of three, Sarah Beck and Brooks Bryce, whose unvaccinated two year old son had a very high fever. At about 5:00pm on February 25th, Ms. Beck took the boy to Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine’s clinic. She saw a doctor who was concerned that the boy might have meningitis because his fever was over 105 degrees.

The doctor told Beck that she should take her son to a local emergency room. Ms. Beck didn’t want to take the child to the ER because she was afraid staffers there would call CPS due to the child’s lack of vaccinations. The naturopathic doctor assured Beck that CPS would not be summoned. Beck then apparently relented, and the doctor advised her to take her son to a children’s hospital. The doctor then called the hospital and asked them to let her know when the mother and child arrived.

Ms. Beck then decided not to take her boy to the ER. She said his fever broke and he appeared to feel better. They went home. Meanwhile, the doctor she’d consulted got very worried when Beck didn’t visit the ER with her child. She called the police and asked the to do a wellness check. When the police showed up to do the check, Brooks Bryce, father of the two year old and his four and six year old siblings, refused to allow the police to see the child. He declined to take the child to the hospital, supposedly worried about the potentially high bill associated with an ER visit.

At 1:30am, the police showed up at the home again with a court order. Since Beck and Bryce still refused to cooperate, they broke down the door and seized all three of the children. The parents were ordered to come outside with their hands up, as police officers swarmed their home with guns drawn. They were arrested and, to this day, their kids remain in foster care. It was later determined that the boy and his sisters had a respiratory sickness.

I shared this story with friends. One friend felt the police were justified in breaking down the front door and hauling these parents to jail. Personally, I disagree. I think the way the police handled this case could ultimately do more harm than good.

On the surface, this seems reasonable. Or, it could just mean the doctor doesn’t want to deal with addicted patients. OB-GYNs do have to pay a lot for malpractice insurance.

As I was explaining why I feel this way, I was reminded of a post I wrote on my old blog about pregnant women being warned about their drug use at the doctor’s office. A doctor had posted a note in his office about how any pregnant woman who tested positive for drugs would be reported to the authorities. My immediate thought was that the doctor wasn’t actually interested in helping all pregnant women. He or she was probably more concerned about liability. A Facebook friend had posted a photo of the note, commending the doctor on his stance. But I got the feeling that she hadn’t considered what that attitude would actually mean for the developing fetus in the drug addicted mom. Pregnant women who abuse drugs still need medical care, probably even more than other pregnant women who don’t have addictions. Posting a sign that guarantees that the addicted mom will get in trouble with the law is pretty much a guarantee that she won’t seek medical help when she needs it.

In this case, Sarah Beck was afraid to visit the emergency room with her son. Why? Because she was under the impression that someone would call CPS on her for not having him vaccinated. Yes, the doctor did inform Beck that her child would not be seized, since Arizona allows parents to opt their children out of vaccinations for personal, religious, and medical reasons. But, for some reason, she was still afraid that her parental rights would be stripped from her. Ultimately, that is exactly what happened, even if it was because the parents refused to cooperate with the authorities. This case ended up being referenced on anti-vax sites contending that Arizona child protective services “sells” children into foster care. So what does that do? Now, more people are going to be convinced that seeking medical or police help will lead to arrest.

I certainly don’t condone the way Sarah Beck and Brooks Bryce behaved. I think they should have been much more cooperative. I have read about what the police found when they raided their home, and I’ve seen the video in which the police kicked in the front door. Yes, there was evidence that the children weren’t getting the best care. Vomit was found on the children’s beds and there was a lot of clutter. Particularly concerning was the fact that police found a shotgun in the parents’ nightstand, which reportedly wasn’t functional. For that reason, I can see why the police officers placed the father in handcuffs.

I also think that certain vaccines should be mandatory, unless a person can’t take them for medical reasons. While I’m generally whole-heartedly in favor of a person having complete rights to his or her bodily autonomy, this is a public health issue. People still die of communicable diseases like measles, and for some people who can’t be vaccinated, it’s a true matter of life and death that healthy people are immune and can’t spread the disease. I do think that not vaccinating children, especially for formerly rare illnesses like measles, mumps, and rubella, is stupid.

However, I think the heavy handed SWAT team approach to forcing people to accept “help” will ultimately do more harm than good. The fact is, the police as a whole in the United States have gotten a very bad reputation for acting like thugs. Quite a few people have been killed or injured in their dealings with police officers. This case, in which the mom did care enough about her child to seek medical help for him, only to lose custody of him and her other children after a police standoff, does not improve that tarnished image. Moreover, it did turn out the children weren’t that sick, and their father had a justifiable concern about how much an emergency room visit would cost. Medical care in the United States is extremely expensive, particularly for the many people who still lack adequate health insurance.

People should be able to count on medical people and police for help when they need it. I think most police officers and medical professionals care about the people they serve, but I can also see why some people justifiably fear them. It seems like in the United States these days, it’s all too easy to end up on the wrong side of the law. We incarcerate more people in our prisons, many of which are privately owned and operate for profit, than any other nation. Ultimately, I think the better goal is to try to keep families together and strive to support them, rather than threaten them.

While I grant that these parents weren’t cooperating with the authorities and something needed to be done, I also think that the children in this story will forever be left with the image of their parents being arrested and being sent to foster care in separate homes. That will probably cause lasting damage. What is also worrying is the perception among other people that if they seek help, they might eventually be arrested in a very dramatic way. It doesn’t help that in the United States today, people are very quick to call CPS for any reason at all. People have lost custody of their children simply for letting them walk to school by themselves or play alone in their front yards.

I did read that this couple had been in touch with CPS more than once. I do think that they should be investigated. I don’t agree with the super dramatic police response, though, especially since it’s now all over the media. Just my opinion. I feel like there should be more room for parents to exercise their judgment when it comes to taking care of their children, even if I can also see why the authorities were legitimately concerned in this case. The good news is, it looks like the children are back to normal health, even if they aren’t in their parents’ care.

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