Monday, September 21, 2009

H1N1 (Swine Flu), regular “flu”, and the common cold – what you should know

This will be a lengthy post, but it’s worthwhile and should provide you plenty of info regarding the H1N1 virus. If you discover an error with anything I’ve written here, please let me know in the comments section.

There’s a lot of fear going around the Finger Lakes region of New York these days, which has been only heightened by the recent report of the death of a Cornell Student due to complications from the H1N1 virus, or “Swine Flu” as it is known more commonly. So what should you do? Should you be afraid? Should you pull your kids from school at the first sign of a child’s sneezing? How do you know the difference between Swine Flu, common flu, and common cold?

Well, here are some things you should know:

First, the good news: The FDA has given approval, after trials and testing, to 4 manufacturers to produce an H1N1 vaccine. It will be available Oct. 15th to the highest risk patients (children 6 mos. to 18 yrs old, woman who are pregnant, and those with chronic health problem like asthma, diabetes, lung disease, etc… and health care workers). Shortly thereafter there should be enough of the vaccine available to all those who would like it. And before you even think it, NO, this vaccine, or any other for that matter, will not cause autism in your children (that’s a discussion for another day, so let’s move on). Its side-effects will be similar to other flu vaccines... namely, mild flu-like symptoms.

*** Oh, and as a side note… for those of you who still have the gall to question evolution, this is evolution in action, folks… if not for the predictive power of the theory of evolution, vaccines like this would not be possible (here’s an example, if you’re interested: ). So if you still want to doubt that evolution is true, then by all means, skip getting this vaccine (or any others for that matter). But I digress…

Ok… so now that we know there will be a vaccine available and soon, let’s focus on the hysteria surrounding H1N1.

How widespread is H1N1? Well, that’s part of the reason for the concern regarding H1N1… it spreads quite easily and fairly fast. The CDC currently reports 21 states (including New York) with widespread H1N1 activity. So yes, it spreads rapidly. Getting vaccinated as soon as it’s available will help slow the spread of the virus.

How is H1N1 different from normal seasonal flu? Well, in many ways, and for many people, it will be tough to distinguish Swine flu from seasonal flu. Swine flu has a tendency to have additional symptoms such as violent vomiting and diarrhea, but not all who get it will have these symptoms. Also, seasonal flu is generally more of a danger to the elderly and those with weak or compromised immune systems. The H1N1 has so far shown a tendency to be more potent in young people between 6 mos. and 25 years, and pregnant women are also more at risk. There is some debate as to the reason why the elderly seem to be less at risk for H1N1, but one popular theory is that many of the elderly have already been exposed to a predecessor of the Swine Flu (although not the exact same virus… H1N1 is a “novel virus”, meaning it has not been detected in human populations before) in prior outbreaks in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and therefore may already possess antibodies for the virus.

So if it’s so similar to the seasonal flu in terms of symptoms, why is it seen as such a dangerous threat? This is mainly due to the fact that it’s such a new and unique strain of virus. When we are infants, we normally get exposed to about 99% of the germs and viruses we will ever encounter in our lives… during that time the body’s immune system produces antibodies that fight off these infections… this is the reason infants seem to get sick so much more often than when they get older, (and it’s also the reason that we give vaccines to our infants… vaccines are essentially engineered strains of uncommon but strong viruses that will help the body produce antibodies without making it really sick in the process). But, the benefit is that the body remembers these antibodies, and when it detects the same viruses later in life, it already has a “memory” of the antibodies needed to fight the infection off and can do say rapidly, in a matter of days or even hours. However, when the body is infected with a new virus, one that is has no antibodies for, it takes about two weeks for the body to produce antibodies that will effectively attack the virus. The problem is that during that time, an especially powerful or rapidly spreading virus (like the H1N1 appears to be) can cause too much damage and lead to sever illness before the immune system can effectively produce and release the correct antibodies.

How contagious is H1N1? It is highly contagious, as is the seasonal flu. In fact, if you have the virus, you can be contagious 24 hours before showing any symptoms. This is why it is important to maintain good sanitary habits during every flu season, such as using hand sanitizer regularly, sneezing into your arm, washing your hands regularly and not sharing utensils and other objects with other people. These are good tips for every flu season and are not meant just to prevent H1N1.

How can I tell if I’ve got the common cold, flu, or Swine flu? Well, all three can have similar symptoms… the main differences will be in the degree of those symptoms and the length of time you have them. The common cold will give you aches, pains, stuffiness, coughing and sneezing, and sometimes mild fever, but symptoms should get better in a couple of days and subside altogether within 3 or 4 days. Seasonal flu and H1N1 will have many common symptoms similar to the common cold, but will include a high fever, nausea and more sever muscle aches and pains, and will not improve as quickly as a common cold. If you have symptoms you believe to be the flu, please see your doctor immediately… the only way to know for sure if you have H1N1 is with a flu test.

Should I be afraid of H1N1? Afraid? No, not at this time. Aware and cautious? Yes. The H1N1 virus is indeed a new and potent strain of flu, but the seasonal flu itself kills 36,000 people every year. We are better equipped as a society to handle this type of outbreak than we were early in the 20th century when Swine flu wiped out millions. A vaccine is being made available and while you should take precautions to be aware of the symptoms and make sure you use common sense hygiene precautions, you should probably do that during every flu season, H1N1 or not.

So, now that we’ve covered some basic H1N1 questions, let’s talk about the vaccine.

If I get the H1N1 vaccine, am I covered for the seasonal flu as well? No. The seasonal flu vaccine was developed earlier in the year and has the 3 most common strains of flu predicted to hit the US this year in it. The H1N1 vaccine was developed separately and will only target the H1N1 virus. Please make the effort to receive both vaccines.

Is the vaccine safe? According to the CDC, yes… the H1N1 vaccine should carry essentially the same side effects as the seasonal flu vaccine. Like other vaccines, the side-effects will mainly be mild… headaches, mild fever, mild nausea, muscle aches… etc. However you must take allergic considerations into account, just like with any vaccine. People allergic to eggs, for example, should not get this vaccine.

Will the vaccine help me if I already have H1N1? No. Vaccines are meant to prevent disease, not fight it. If you already have H1N1 you will have to rely on already existing antiviral medication such as Tamiflu.

Will the vaccine be harmful if I’ve gotten H1N1 in the past? According to the CDC, no. There is no harm in being vaccinated if you’ve been infected with H1N1 in the past.

Is the H1N1 vaccine available as a shot or a nasal spray? Both. There is a shot available and a nasal spray. The two are different as to what they contain. The shot contains an “inactivated” vaccine… meaning it has fragments of the killed virus. The nasal spray contains a live, but weakened, virus that does not cause the flu itself, and is meant for healthy people age 2 – 49 years of age. Both are effective, but at this time only the shot is approved for pregnant women.

Who should get vaccinated? Initially, the vaccine will only be available to those in the highest risk categories. However, once the vaccine becomes widely available to everyone, I encourage everyone to get it. Getting vaccinated increases herd immunity and reduces the ability of the virus to spread quickly throughout the population. Additionally, if you know people who stubbornly and ignorantly refuse to get vaccinated despite studies that show it to be safe and the obvious benefit to not just themselves but the rest of us, I would avoid them like… well… like the Swine flu.

Where can I find information on H1N1 that is independent, and not sensationalized media hysteria? The CDC is the best source on information on H1N1. There you will find all the information you need regarding H1N1, how fast it’s spreading, its effect on the US population, and availability on the vaccine, as well answers to many of the questions I’ve laid out here. The CDC page on the H1N1 virus can be found here:

Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) offers a wealth of information on the H1N1 virus here:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let them put their money where their loud, angry, ignorant mouths are...

Ah, yes... we do so love our republican whacko teabaggers, don't we? Well, if they are going to be true to their stand and insane claims that the US is becoming a socialist nation, then by all means they really should sign the following oath... I urge all of you to get all the loyal teabaggers and libertarians to sign it... because after all, it's what they truly believe and are spending so much time and effort rallying behind, right? Right?

So, without further ado, here is your teabagger pledge.

(By the way... this is of course SATIRE people, and while pointed and fairly accurate, is still meant to be an absurd over-statement of the definition of "socialism" in response to the anti-public option health-care assholes that think such a thing can reasonably be called "socialism". If you don't get that, I can't help you.)

The Teabagger Socialist-Free Purity Pledge

I, ________________________________, do solemnly swear to uphold the principles of a socialism-free society and heretofore pledge my word that I shall strictly adhere to the following:

I will complain about the destruction of 1st Amendment Rights in this country, while I am duly being allowed to exercise my 1st Amendment Rights.

I will complain about the destruction of my 2ndAmendment Rights in this country, while I am duly >being allowed to exercise my 2ndAmendment rights by legally but brazenly brandishing unconcealed firearms in public.

I will foreswear the time-honored principles of fairness, decency, and respect by screaming unintelligible platitudes regarding tyranny, Nazi-ism, and socialism at public town halls. Also.

I pledge to eliminate all government intervention in my life. I will abstain from the use of and participation in any socialist goods and services including but not limited to the following:

  • Social Security

  • Medicare/Medicaid

  • State Children's Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP)

  • Police, Fire, and Emergency Services

  • US Postal Service

  • Roads and Highways

  • Air Travel (regulated by the socialist FAA)

  • The US Railway System

  • Public Subways and Metro Systems

  • Public Bus and Lightrail Systems

  • Rest Areas on Highways

  • Sidewalks

  • All Government-Funded Local/State Projects (e.g., see Iowa 2009federal senate appropriations--

  • Public Water and Sewer Services (goodbye socialist toilet, shower, dishwasher, kitchen sink, outdoor hose!)

  • Public and State Universities and Colleges

  • Public Primary and Secondary Schools

  • Sesame Street

  • Publicly Funded Anti-Drug Use Education for Children

  • Public Museums

  • Libraries

  • Public Parksand Beaches

  • State and National Parks

  • Public Zoos

  • Unemployment Insurance

  • Municipal Garbage and Recycling Services

  • Treatment at Any Hospital or Clinic That Ever Received Funding From Local, Stateor Federal Government (pretty much all of them)

  • Medical Services and Medications That Were Created or Derived From Any Government Grant or Research Funding (again, pretty much all of them)

  • Socialist Byproducts of Government Investment Such as Duct Tape and Velcro (Nazi-NASA Inventions)

  • Use of the Internets, email, and networked computers, as the DoD's ARPANET was the basis for subsequent computer networking

  • Foodstuffs, Meats, Produce and Crops That Were Grown With, Fed With, Raised With or That Contain Inputs From Crops Grown With Government Subsidies

  • Clothing Made from Crops (e.g. cotton) That Were Grown With or That Contain Inputs From Government Subsidies

  • If a veteran of the government-run socialist US military, I will forego my VA benefits and insist on paying for my own medical care

I will not tour socialist government buildings like the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

I pledge to never take myself, my family, or my children on a tour of the following types of socialist

locations, including but not limited to:

  • Smithsonian Museums such as the Air and Space Museum or Museum of American History

  • The socialist Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Monuments

  • The government-operated Statue of Liberty

  • The Grand Canyon

  • The socialist World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials

  • The government-run socialist-propaganda location known as Arlington National Cemetery

  • All other public-funded socialist sites, whether it be in my state or in Washington, DC

I will urge my Member of Congress and Senators to forego their government salary and government-provided healthcare.

I will oppose and condemn the government-funded and therefore socialist military of the United States of America.

I will boycott the products of socialist defense contractors such as GE, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Humana, FedEx, General Motors, Honeywell, and hundreds of others that are paid by our socialist government to produce goods for our socialist army.

I will protest socialist security departments such as the Pentagon, FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, TSA, Department of Justice and their socialist employees.

Upon reaching eligible retirement age, I will tear up my socialist Social Security checks.

Upon reaching age 65, I will forego Medicare and pay for my own private health insurance until I die.

SWORN ON A BIBLE AND SIGNED THIS DAY OF ____________ IN THE YEAR ______________.

___________________________ ___________________________

Signed Printed Name/Town and State

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm not about to sit idly by...

... while right-wing clowns like Hannity, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Beck continue their attempts at lying, mis-representation and fear-mongering in an attempt to attack the President... this time aimed at school-children and gullible parents.

For the most part, the Northeast has a fairly liberal and progressive bent, and frankly speaking, I never thought the stupidity and insanity that has overtaken Texas and Virginia would spread up here... but alas it has. My daughter's school sent out an email informing parents that Obama's speech to the children of the US would be reviewed and then a decision made as to whether or not it will be shown to the children. As you can imagine, I was outraged, and more than a little surprised. I responded with the email below... (I've removed the school name and location out of consideration for my family and the school).

Dear xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx,

Thank you for taking the time to send this email concerning President Obama's speech to our nation's school children. Xxxxxxxxxxxx, while I understand the school administration's desire to be mindful and considerate of the concerns of the student's parents, I must confess to some confusion regarding your email. In it you state that there will be decision made as to whether or not the children will be shown the President's speech? I must object! Xxxxxxxxxxxxx School is still, last time I checked, a public school... a publicly funded ward of the State of New York and the government of the United States of America. And like him or not, President Obama is the elected leader of our government, and our country's president. Is the administration of this public school seriously considering censorship with regards to a speech made by the President and directed at the school children of our country, all in order to appease the desperate and misguided attempts of a vocal minority of people with a transparent goal of attacking this President by any means necessary?

Whatever your politics, whatever your beliefs, whatever your thoughts are concerning President Obama, the fact remains that he IS our President, our government's elected leader, and the very idea of a public institution even considering an act of censorship of this kind leaves me simply appalled.

While it may not seem convenient to those waging this wedge-driving campaign to remember, this is hardly the first time a President has delivered a speech to the children of the US. In 1991, then President George H.W. Bush delivered a speech to school children in a widely broadcast teleconference. The message was hardly one of trying to convert school-kids to a political ideology. It was a speech meant to encourage kids to work heard, stay in school, and learn. It was an admirable effort that should no more have been opposed than the proposed speech by President Obama.

The thought that President Obama would present a speech to children that would somehow encourage them towards a specific political ideology is simply laughable, and is just another in a long succession of fear tactics being employed by a small minority with a specific goal. And I for one will not sit by idly while a public school considers such an act of censorship.

I encourage you to please use common sense in this matter, and not buy into the hysteria simply as a matter of appeasement. A speech by the highest elected official in our country to our schoolchildren encouraging them to work hard and be successful can be nothing but a positive thing. I would recommend showing the speech to the school as a whole, and invite parents along to watch with their children if they wish. This will get the parents involved and help provide context if the parents feel it is needed.

However, I will strongly resist the school being complicit in an act of censorship. I have known the school administration to use common sense and intelligent consideration with issues in the past, and it is my hope that this will continue.

Thank you, xxxxxxxxxxxxxx, for your time in reading this letter.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Miracles - just more proof that god's an a-hole.

I’ve talked about my disdain for organized religion before… most people of course accuse me of hating people who believe in religion. This is untrue… most people I know subscribe to one religion or another, and in fact my best friend is quite happily religious. I have no problem with people believing in god, for the most part… it’s the organizations of religion that I really have a problem with.

The reasons are many… they are the purveyors of the “great lies”, they assert truths without evidence, they offer forgiveness for abhorrent behavior by simply affirming belief, they harm progress by stifling independent thought, they stunt intellectual growth by promoting the concept of belief in things despite contrary evidence. They govern and control on a principal of fear of eternal and horrific punishment. And what’s worse, they can never be contented with keeping their beliefs to themselves. Almost all religions have the same goal: convert as many people as possible to your belief. The term “missionary” is one of reverence and respect to the religious, while all it is to me is an asshole who insists him / herself on other people whether they like it or not.

In addition, religion instills people with a false sense of hope, and a belief that problems can be solved without action, by simply praying. How can this lead to a productive, affluent, progressive society? Additionally, religion is notoriously exclusivist, and bigoted by its very nature. There are thousands of religions... in fact, according to the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (2006), there are over 38,000 denominations of christianity alone. And each one thinks every other one has got it wrong… so much so that despite believing in the same god and reading from the same essential 2000 year old texts, protestant and catholic members of the same god still actively kill each other over who’s fucking interpretation is more correct. This is the insanity that religion breeds in people. It removes objectivity and creates insular, ignorant followers who believe without question, and accept without consideration.

It’s with this preface I come to the case of the recent “miracle” at Lourdes. According to the Catholic News Agency, via a report from the Italian news agency ANSA, a woman who was reportedly wheelchair-bound, stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), bathed in the waters at Lourdes and immediately was cured… and now she is walking and even running… all signs of her disease apparently completely gone.

Now, first of all, let’s attack the “miracle cure” thing directly… these things are almost never truly miracles. They nearly always end up having some mundane, if not medically cool, answer once looked into more closely. In this case, despite the quotes from her doctor, I’m left unconvinced that she was “cured”. What was her actual condition when she was at Lourdes? What was she doing just prior? She was apparently medically diagnosed with ALS, so was she participating in any drug trials? Was she mis-diagnosed? Was she examined immediately after Lourdes? No… “miracles” never have these questions available, nevermind actually answered. In fact, interestingly enough, there has been an ongoing medical trial for ALS treatment involving Lithium, which has shown the ability to halt or even completely stop the progression of ALS. Where has this trial been taking place? In Italy, interestingly enough. I have no direct knowledge of it, but would I be surprised to find out that this woman was part of such a trial? Nope… in fact I find it far more likely than the possibility that she was miraculously cured by magic water.

But for the sake of this discussion, let’s just take the claim of a “miracle cure” at face value. So she was cured, by god, at Lourdes. She alone, out of the hundreds of thousands that visited Lourdes this past year alone, was worthy. We’ll accept that premise for this discussion. Reports are that the crowd at Lourdes wept and praised god when the woman got up out of her chair. They were all grateful. GRATEFUL! This is what I don’t understand about christians, and the religious in general. At best, if this is a true miracle cure, does it not show god to be capricious and inconsistent? Millions of people have come to Lourdes… millions upon millions… many very sick, all believers. I’m sure many of the afflicted have suffered far worse and lived a far more pious life than this woman, and yet she was chosen to be cured? Why? What could be the possible reason that god would do this? If god has the power to remove pain and suffering instantaneously at his whim, why must one make the effort of going through ritualistic behavior like traveling to Lourdes, which may be painful and difficult, if not impossible for some, in order for that suffering to be alleviated? If this woman was worthy of being cured, why not just cure her? And if making a statement for god was the point, why make it so rare?

Additionally, if this woman was so worthy of being cured, why make her suffer the disease in the first place? And what of the others? Why are they unworthy? And why do they not ask this question of themselves?

I’ve asked these questions of the religious, and invariably I get the same answers. It's apologetics at its worst. The most common has to do with why god allows her and so many others to suffer. Invariably the answer is that we must suffer in this life to become closer to god and to enjoy the afterlife, or some bullshit like that. OK… fine. So god allows suffering as some sort of “penance”. So does that mean that this woman who has been cured and doesn’t suffer anymore will not be getting into heaven? If that is the case, I’d bet the woman would gladly take her ALS back to make sure she gets into heaven… if that’s not the case, then why not just remove suffering for all who believe in him? Why allow it for some and remove it for others? It seems capricious and arbitrary. If there is a god, then he’s a monster and I’d rather not know him anyhow.

Once the questions start getting tough, where the answers begin to contradict each other, most inevitably resort to the religious “ace-in-the-hole” catch-all answer: god works in mysterious ways, and you can’t know his mind, and to assume you can would be arrogant.

Great. Well that’s just great. So god can continue to be shown as a capricious, arbitrary, sadistic, petulant child with no consistency who insists on worship but refuses to show evidence for himself, and continually tests our faith just to prove how great he is, but we are to accept it anyhow because we can't know his mind? Fuck that. I want no part of it. Frankly none of it makes any sense, and the older I get the more clear to me it becomes that the only rational, reasonable thing to believe is that it’s all complete hogwash - ancient mythology that served to control populations and answer questions we didn’t yet have answers to. Every answer religion provides is so irrational, inconsistent, arbitrary and vague as to not merit consideration unless you have already been pre-programmed to accept a specific set of answers.

For too long, the term “taking it on faith” has been seen as a virtue. It’s not. It’s an admission of willful ignorance. The world needs less of that, not more.