Is it H1N1? Update

I like to consider myself a man of science.  When I came down with flu-like symptoms (temperature of 102.5 F / 39.2 C, muscle aches, occasional cough) I of course realized that I must have been exposed to a flu virus, although it is unlikely I’ll get tested to know specifically which one it is.

But there’s just a little bit of me that rejects the rational science expectation.  Here’s why: Sunday afternoon I went for a traditional Thai massage, something I haven’t done in at least nine months.  Like shiatsu, Thai massage is about manipulating pressure points and working deeply into your muscle tissue.  It can be painful.

Before going into the two-hour massage I felt fine but afterwards my muscles ached  as if I had been beaten up.  More than once I had to ask the masseuse to lighten the pressure a bit.  Sunday evening my face and neck were flushed and warm although a check of temperature didn’t show any notable elevation.  I drank plenty of liquids and got some extra rest.

Monday, though, it wasn’t getting any better.  I got up and worked for a while and then went back in to take a nap.  Checking my temperature, it was up to 38.1 C (37.0 is normal body temperature) and as the evening went on it spiked at 39.2 C.  Ibuprofen didn’t seem to be making any difference.  Fortunately, I’ve not had any nausea and my appetite has remained healthy.  This evening my temperature seems to have dropped a bit (haven’t check it yet but I feel cooler) and I had a light dinner of whole grain rice and some “gaeng jut” – so called “bland” soup which is broth with some ground meat and soft tofu in it.

I’ll get a full night’s sleep tonight and see how I feel in the morning.  If the temperature drops then I won’t go to the hospital.

Again, I know there’s a rational and scientific explanation for my illness.  But I can’t help wondering if the masseuse didn’t manipulate my energy points in such a way that it brought on the symptoms or opened the door to the virus by messing with my immunity.

Maybe an unfair assumption but I’ll probably be hesitant to get another full-bore Thai massage for a while.  Maybe just stick with the foot and shoulder massage, which is less painful.

Tuesday Evening: Despite taking ibuprofen for the fever, my temperature has gone up and down always staying at least a bit about normal.  Right now at 9:10 pm it is 39.0 C (about 102 F).  Chest congestion has built over the last twenty-four hours with a very deep, rumbling cough beneath my breast bone.  I’ll head to the hospital in the morning and have this checked out.


The Truth About Flu Shots

Fear.jpgI generally don’t trust the media.  Not because of some conspiracy theory or out of fear that ever-fewer corporations own an ever-increasing share of the media outlets.  My distrust comes simply from the lack of knowledge that reporters and anchors have about the subjects they are covering.

My first realization of this came when I was in university.  While studying, I worked as a manager of a movie cinema.  There was a reporter who came to visit a new cinema that was under construction and subsequently wrote an article about the dynamics of cinema ownership and the distribution of films in a given market.  Reading the article, I was amazed at the number of inaccuracies it contained.  He simply didn’t have a good understanding of what he was writing about and, as a result, the article was flawed.

It occurred to me that if the reporter got something as trivial as an article about the distribution of films wrong, what were he and his peers doing with more important information?

We’re seeing that kind of “getting it wrong” reporting these days about the H1N1 flu shot.  From claims that receiving a flu shot will give you the flu to reports linking flu vaccines to autism to hysteria about mercury in vaccines to, most recently, the claim that a woman developed the rare neurological disorder dystonia from a flu shot, news reporting seems more interested in sensationalism than science, stories over statistics.

At the root of this shoddy reporting seems to be a misunderstanding of correlation and causation.  Just because something happens at or around the same time that something else happens, doesn’t mean one thing caused the other.  If I get a flu shot and a few days later get struck by lightning, the flu shot didn’t necessarily cause me to get struck.  Me standing in the middle of a field during a thunderstorm flying a kite with a key tied on the string may have been the more likely cause.

Why is this important?  Vaccines have played an important role in decreasing illness and death worldwide.  When fears and misinformation about vaccines are encouraged, even ones as simple as the scientifically untrue belief that you can catch the flu from a flu shot, they lead people to make very dangerous choices.

Amy Wallace has written a very interesting article about this in the October 19th issue of Wired magazine.  The article, titled An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All, is well worth a read.

Some people are visual learners.  For those of us who learn best by seeing pictures and graphs, a special thanks to Sion, who pointed me towards an interesting graphic that shows the relative risks assoiated with HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccine, another vaccine about which all sorts of pseudoscience is being bantered about.  Original appears here.


Finally, if you are curious about the difference between correlation and causation, the informative website Science-Based Medicine has an entry containing two videos that explains these statistical terms, and debunks other myths about vaccines, very clearly with hard and fast scientific data.  Worth a watch.

Thanks for letting me rant.