Just a Little Pin-Prick

17 12 2012

I have been remiss in not talking about a very important subject. Like most topics I deem worthy of a rant, the people at whom I direct my ire routinely disregard evidence and scientific inquiry in favor of what they believe the truth to be. The more evidence is provided which completely disproves their idiotic beliefs, the more strongly they cling to their irrational ideas. I am speaking, of course, about the anti-vaccination movement.

This could probably fall under the heading of “First World Problems”, mainly because this misguided effort to inflict misery and death in the form of preventable diseases seems to be solely the prerogative of wealthy Americans. Not content with helping measles and mumps make a comeback here in the US, these cretins are now trying to spread the misery to areas of the world already miserable from the prevalence of preventable illnesses.

Their stated objection is the presence of a chemical called Thimerisol in the vaccines intended for use by the UN World Health Organization in Africa. Thimerisol, for those of you who aren’t deeply involved in the anti-vaccination movement, is supposedly the embodiment of pure Evil which causes autism in children. Never mind that there is no evidence that Thimerisol causes autism, or that study after study has proven there is no link between vaccinations (with or without Thimerisol) and autism, a bunch of well-off white women think there’s a link, and that’s good enough for them. They’re not even content to just allow their own kids to fall victim to diseases which ought to be nearly non-existent in a First World country, they have created crusades to spread the word about this horrible conspiracy by doctors, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies to make their babies autistic.

Why is Thimerisol added to vaccines anyway, a more reasonable person might ask? It turns out that Thimerisol is a preservative, and is used to prevent the vaccine from going bad if un-refrigerated. Refrigeration is ubiquitous here in the US, but is much more rare in other parts of the world, such as a lot of Africa. If the vaccine is not kept properly refrigerated before being dispensed, the recipient can develop a nasty case of meningitis. Thimerisol prevents this from happening. Apparently the shrill suburbanites who oppose vaccinations would rather have 40,000 children die from measles in Africa (last year’s number) than be exposed to the living Hell that is life-saving medicine.

In a rational world, these frantic harpies would be ignored byeveryone with a functioning cerebellum for their willful ignorance. Sadly, the United States is apparently chock-full of people desperate to prove that it is someone else’s fault their kid has autism. “They gave my baby a shot right after delivery, and now he’s autistic!” “They’re giving our kids too many vaccinations too soon, and this overwhelms their little bodies and makes them autistic!” “It isn’t my fault- it has to be those evil pharmaceutical companies!”

Let’s see now. The doctor in the delivery room gave your baby a shot right after birth, and this somehow contaminated the poor tyke and caused permanent mental impairment. Here’s a clue for you: when your baby took its first breath, it inhaled several trillion microbes into its lungs along with the air. By comparison, the drug cocktail in the syringe is as close to sterile as medically possible. Furthermore, there’s a damned good reason to get that shot immediately- it protects the child from Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) causes chronic illness and roughly 3,000 deaths every year. 30-40% of those chronic illnesses result from childhood exposure. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a schedule of recommended vaccinations for children, developed from research on preventing childhood diseases. Of course, to the anti-vaccination crowd, this only means that the CDC is part of the conspiracy.

How about that idea that the vaccinations are too much, too soon? Sorry, but that is also a crock of shit. Despite howls of protest from the anti-vaccination wing-nuts, yet another study has shot down this idea. There is no link between childhood vaccinations and autism- or any other neurological problem.

Every single time these anti-vaccination imbeciles come up with a new reason why no children should ever be protected from preventable and life-threatening diseases, doctors and scientists sigh heavily and conduct another study which proves that the anti-vaccination folks don;t know what the Hell they’re talking about. With every scientific defeat, these loons dredge up yet another outlandish theory about the causes of autism. They absolutely refuse to look at the scientific evidence which suggests that there’s a strong genetic component to autism. In some cases, the neurological abnormalities associated with autism have been observed in babies still in the womb. This alone should put the entire “vaccinations cause autism” bullshit to rest, and yet the “movement” continues to try and convince everyone else to refuse childhood vaccinations.

Why should we care? What does it matter if a bunch of suburban housewives refuse to let their precious snowflakes get vaccinated? It’ll be too bad for the kid when he or she gets dangerously sick from an easily preventable disease, but that’s the parent’s problem, right?

Wrong. There is a substantial minority of people in this country who cannot be vaccinated for some diseases, or who have depressed immune systems for a variety of reasons (such as cancer treatments). Very young children aren’t scheduled to get the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) shot until they’re 12 months old, so they are at risk until properly vaccinated. Older people whose vaccinations have lapsed or who may be allergic to a particular vaccine are also at risk. Ordinarily, they would all be protected by what doctors call “herd immunity”. If enough members of a group (such as the United States of America, for one example) have or are given immunity or resistance to a particular disease, there will be so few cases of the disease that the few who lack the immunity/resistance can be relatively safe.

No longer. Thanks to the anti-vaccination movement, the number of measles cases in the US doubled between 2008 and 2009, with 89% of the victims being children whose parents had refused vaccination. In 1996, there were four deaths from Pertussis (whooping cough) in the US. By 2001, the number was 17- most of them infants under one year old. Since the deeply stupid anti-vaccination craze took hold, there have been roughly 5,000 cases of mumps across the US, with roughly 15 deaths per year.

For those of you not really paying attention so far, allow me to sum up: People (including children) are dying of easily preventable diseases here in the US because of a group of anti-scientific imbeciles who refuse to listen to facts and evidence. Is that clear enough for you?

Here are some more facts for you:

Fewer youngsters worldwide are dying of childhood diseases now than at any other time in history. About 80% of children today are vaccinated against such deadly illnesses as measles and polio, compared with 20% in the early 1980s.

There were an estimated 30 to 40 million cases of measles in 2000, causing some 777,000 deaths.

…immunization can be credited with saving approximately 9 million lives a year worldwide. A further 16 million deaths a year could be prevented if effective vaccines were deployed against all potentially vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Health officials say aggressive efforts to vaccinate young children against measles have resulted in a 74 percent global decline in the number of deaths due to the illness [between 2000 and 2007]. Experts say the biggest decline, 90 percent, occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean region.”

In England and Wales, measles cases increased 36% in 2008. Measles cases more than doubled from the year before during the first half of 2008 in the United States.

“Before smallpox was eradicated with a vaccine, it killed an estimated 500 million people. And just 60 years ago, polio paralyzed 16,000 Americans every year, while rubella caused birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns. Measles infected 4 million children, killing 3,000 annually, and a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b caused Hib meningitis in more than 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage. Infant mortality and abbreviated life spans — now regarded as a third world problem — were a first world reality.”

Amy Wallace

Pay attention to the numbers above. Doctors are often accused of only providing treatments, but not cures. Vaccines have provided one of the really few bright spots in medical history, where the docs can say they have a definite win. Polio is almost extinct. Small pox now only exists in a few laboratories. Those diseases once devastated millions, and are now all but eradicated, thanks to vaccines. Are we going to throw all that away because a few deeply stupid people in the US “don’t feel right” about it?

Special thanks to Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy, whose excellent writing on the subject convinced me to add my miniscule voice to the chorus.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Youngblood by Naked and Famous





Better Living Through Chemistry

6 09 2010

A few years ago, I made a remarkably simple (and stupid) mistake, and it cost me a career and left me in constant pain. The Navy was nice enough to give me severance pay, but they couldn’t justify keeping a sailor who can barely walk. If you can’t go to sea, you can’t stay in the Big Blue Machine.

I still work for the Navy as a civilian, but my entire life was turned upside down by a moment’s inattention to detail. I used to be fairly fit (for a sailor). I ran every day, worked out in the gym, practiced one or two martial arts, and generally had an abundance of good health as a result. I can do none of those things any more, and my general health has suffered for it. All the muscle mass I had turned into mush, and now I look like a potato.

Then there is the pain. If you go to a doctor’s office, they usually have a little chart on the wall to help you describe what level of pain you are feeling. A normal person should be at zero (on a scale of zero to ten). “Normal”, for me, is between four and five. Every day. Every night. Any activity beyond a short walk usually sends me up into the seven-to-eight range. Some of my work requires that I spend a considerable time on my feet. I plan my work routine to cover as much territory as possible in the shortest amount of time (a comedian once said, “If you want to know the easiest way to get somewhere, ask a cripple- they know ALL the shortcuts“), then grit my teeth and get the job done. I also tend to use large quantities of pharmaceuticals to keep the pain to a more-or-less manageable level.

I hate drugs. Always have. Being in the service only reinforced this opinion, since Navy Medicine generally consists of band-aids and “vitamin M” (Motrin™). Ibuprofen, the active chemical in several brand-name pain relievers (including Motrin™), does a fair job on aches and pains, but tends to tear up your stomach in large doses (the military routinely hands out “vitamin M” in 800 mg doses- to the point where it’s called “Ranger Candy” by the Army). There are also significant side effects from long-term use- including damage to the liver and kidneys. The problem is, ibuprofen works best when there’s a reasonably consistent level of the drug in your bloodstream all the time, so there are a lot of ex-military people out there with damaged livers and kidneys from long-term ibuprofen use.

Ibuprofen doesn’t work very well for me, so I’m kind of stuck with more potent meds. Did I mention I dislike drugs? I truly loathe narcotics. Narcotics like codeine often reduce the pain to tolerable levels, but they make me dumb as a post. Worse, the dumb-as-a-post effect outlasts the pain relief by at least a factor of three. I’ll get four to six hours of surcease from pain, at the cost of blithering idiocy for a couple of days. This can cause some problems at work, where only sheer force of will keeps me from expressing my heartfelt disgust with stupidity. If I’m in dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks mode, the vitriol tends to spill forth unbidden. Since I work in a customer-service-intensive field, this causes extra work for my boss and co-worker- neither of whom deserve it.

In between ibuprofen and narcotics are a few drugs which take a notch or two off the pain, but generally leave me more-or-less coherent and mostly in control of my faculties. They all tend to make me sleepy, so I try not to take them at work. After a particularly arduous day, I often take one just before I leave for home. The soporific effect doesn’t kick in until I’m safely at home, and pain level will be slowly reducing through the course of my drive to the point where I can manage to get into the house without terrifying neighborhood children with my facial expressions. I cannot take them constantly, but these drugs do make it possible for me to have a reasonable facsimile of a normal existence.

Then there is beer. I never used to be a big fan of beer, although I had a few favorites. My tastes ran more to single-malt scotch. I discovered by accident that a favorite beer of mine had a marvelous pain relieving effect. This apparent analgesic effect required further study, so I experimented. I found that several beers and ales did wonders for relieving my pain, but far too many of those tasted like malted battery acid. If I couldn’t stand to drink them, they wouldn’t do me much good. I was left with a handful of beers and ales which were both good-tasting and worked well as painkillers. let me assure all and sundry that I am talking about drinking a single beer, and getting the same analgesic effect as one of the make-me-sleepy painkillers. Getting blotto would probably help with the pain, but I’d be back in dim-as-five-feet-up-a-pig’s-ass territory, and I hate that.

Believe it or not, my beloved wife approves of this means of pain control. She frequently tells me to stop at the store and pick up a couple of bottles. She can’t stand the stuff, but likes the fact that it keeps my pain manageable. I can’t believe I married someone with such good judgement. Better still, the cat likes it, too. She loves drinking the foam and the corks make wonderful cat toys.

So, despite my infirmities, I have managed to scratch out a rude approximation of a normal life. I eagerly await the invention of a painkiller with no side effects, but in the meantime, I will make do with the combinations of chemicals and lifestyle changes which I have developed over the past few years.

Current status: Bored

Current music: The High Road by Broken Bells