Friday, June 27, 2014

Against Disease

I want to continue the conversation started here about vaccinations. In that piece I mentioned that pro-vacs tend to mischaracterize what it is that anti-vacs actually believe and say. If I understand the terms of logic, this represents a straw man argument, where one party provides a counter-argument to an argument that was never even presented. It is like setting up a straw man and then knocking it down. Anyone can defeat a straw man. It is much more difficult to address the actual arguments being made.

Recently I was accused of believing that getting diseases is healthy and that I am hoping that my children contract all sorts of illness because I believe it benefits their immune systems. Let me be clear here -- disease is the opposite of health. When a child is experiencing a diseased state of the body it is always, in my estimation, not a good thing. I have no wish or desire for my children to get diseases. I do not think only in terms of healthy and unhealthy but rather whether my children exist in a general state of wellness.  Over the past year my children have been exposed to and some of them contracted both pertussis (whooping cough) and chicken pox. How do I feel about that?

Their short term discomfort from those illnesses caused me to sympathize with them for sure, but at no time did they become seriously ill or need a doctor's care. They certainly were never anywhere near death. And now they have a lifelong immunity to whooping cough and long-term immunity against chicken pox. In addition, the entire family received a varicella zoster booster, in the form of exposure to active chicken pox, which will hopefully help us keep shingles at bay. I don't view this as being "good for the immune system". The immune system is good on its own. The fact that no one dies in our home from their daily exposure to viruses and bacteria is a pretty good sign that their immune systems are functioning well.

On the other hand, I do believe that the lack of live chicken pox virus floating around the populous is resulting in an increasing rate of shingles and the appearance of shingles in younger and younger people. Let me explain. When I was growing up in the 1970's and 1980's, shingles was nearly unheard of. The general understanding was that after having chicken pox, usually as a child, that a person was then immune to the illness of chicken pox for life, however, the virus would remain dormant, possibly hiding within nerve cells, and inexplicably would occasionally manifest itself as shingles. When I say "occasionally," I mean rarely. I never knew anyone with a case of shingles while I was growing up. Today, shingles is practically common. It seems that we are always praying for someone at church who is suffering from a painful case of shingles.

Is there something different about today's elderly people that makes them more susceptible to shingles? Yes there is. They don't get regular "boosters" of exposure to live cases of chicken pox. Because of the use of chicken pox vaccination, there are fewer young children running around with chicken pox than there used to be. In addition, the elderly tend to spend less time surrounded by lots of children, choosing instead to live in isolated communities and homes with other elderly. If they do have grandchildren that visit them, it is probably only  one or two, rather than 10. In contrast, when I was a child, we were around our grandparents all the time. And children who had chicken pox did not isolate themselves because everyone older had already had chicken pox and everyone younger was bound to get it. It was not considered a serious illness, because it isn't. This means that nearly everyone in the population who had any contact with children, including in public places like stores, was getting continual re-exposure to the virus that causes chicken pox.  This probably stimulated their immune systems to keep the varicella virus in check within their bodies, protecting from an outbreak of shingles.

Once an elderly person withdrew from exposure to children, he also withdrew from re-exposure to chicken pox and so his chance of getting shingles increased. How long does a person have to be away from chicken pox before she becomes vulnerable to a shingles attack? I can't find this information anywhere, but from personal experience in our family I know it can be as soon as 10 years. How did I discover this? Because my oldest son, who had chicken pox when he was about 7 got shingles when he was not yet 15. My second daughter had chicken pox when she was around 5 and got shingles at 20. My second son had chicken pox at around 3 and had shingles at 18. The pharmaceutical industry's answer to the massive increase in shingles is just another vaccine, recommended for the elderly. The shingles vaccine contains 14 times the strength of the chicken pox vaccine.

Have you heard anything about shingles in younger and younger people. Probably not because people do not go to the doctor when they have a small shingles lesion.  People don't go to the doctor for shingles until they need help with the pain or develop a secondary infection. So shingles, like most disease, is under reported. Younger people don't develop complications from shingles at the same rate as the elderly. How long before shingles is no longer classified as a disease of the elderly? How long until the shingles vaccine is recommend for all adults every 5 or 10 years?  A problem created by the combination of lifestyle changes plus vaccines is "cured" by yet another vaccine.

So, I don't want my children to have the diseases for which there are vaccines. But at the same time, I don't fear those diseases either.

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