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Monday, June 18, 2012

Don't fear the fever

*Cue the Blue Oyster Cult soundtrack...*

A few days ago my daughter went to bed with a stomachache (nothing highly unusual for her, since without her bran flakes, she gets kind of constipated). Anyway, by Saturday afternoon we were running a high fever (103.5) and a mystery rash appeared that night. Panic! No, wait, don't panic. I love Dr. Sears - not only because he's a dad of a small army - but because that's the first thing he says: "Don't panic!"

Due to an earlier outbreak of something mysterious when my oldest was about her age, I knew a little bit about fevers - enough to know, in my copious reading, that fever is not always a bad thing. After all, it's the body's natural defense mechanism against invading germs, and therefore I only give fever reducers sparingly now - like only if they're horribly miserable. Even then, fluids and an early bedtime usually does wonders.

Anyway, I was beginning to freak out, because yes, that does seem high. She started throwing up Sunday, and while it wasn't every 20 minutes or anything, it was concerning. And there was that rash. I wondered: she had strep throat last fall, could it be scarlet fever? Hand-Foot-And-Mouth Disease? Chicken pox? I jumped with glee a little inside at the thought of that, because she's only had one shot - and after all, chicken pox is a "normal childhood illness." (Depending on who you ask, anyway... more on that later.)

Of course, being the dummy that I am, I posted a message on Facebook: something about misery, a high fever and prayers (perhaps not so much for her, but for my sanity, as I had concurrently had a three-year-old regressing in toilet habits all day long thanks to one too many bran muffins. Never again.) Anyway, it wasn't long before my mom called. All in a tizzy, of course.

I reassured her we were fine, we were dealing with it, keeping an eye on her, and that was it. We exchanged mutters and disgust over the chicken pox vaccine and how really, it's better to just get the actual illness, stuff like that. Then we hung up.

I had done my research, was confident that yes, I was doing the right thing. My husband encouraged me to stop worrying and get out of the house. I took a nap. I went swimming. I even enjoyed it.

Later, she called me back. In an even bigger tizzy. This time she'd talked to my well-meaning but totally drinking the KoolAid nurse relatives who thought, along with the bombastic, condescending, interrupting fill-in on-call pediatrician, that she should be taken in. I started to feel the panic rise up again, the second-guessing: Was I doing the right thing? Was I being stupid? She had done her share of Google searches, as I had, and came up with even stranger results: all I remember was something about typhoid fever. Seriously? I pictured in my mind a quick visual of Typhoid Mary cooking over a hot stove, shedding her virus into everyone's food, then snapped back to reality. "Mom, it's not typhoid."

"Well, it's 104. What about those bugs you have?"

"Mom, it is not 104. And those bugs are Mayflies. They're dead now - they go away at the end of May. And don't you remember when Oldest Kid had a fever of 104 for a few days? Afterwards I talked to the pediatrician and he thought maybe it was swine flu - and I didn't even know to be freaked out and panic, we just treated it!"

We've had conversations before, interestingly, about how my close relative who happens to be a nurse thinks medicating for everything is necessary and always a good idea; sort of "if it's there, you might as well use it" approach. I don't disagree that sometimes it is a good idea, but when people are overdosing their children on Tylenol, you come to realize that our medical culture definitely has a "more is better" approach, which is probably more dangerous in the long run than just monitoring and caring for the child in the first place.

I still remember some movie - not even sure what it was - where a mom is worriedly hovering over her young child, who is running a very high fever. Fast forward to the hospital - she's in an ice bath (the last thing you want to do, apparently), there's an angel coming to take her away kind of deal, and that's all I remember. I don't think I was even a mom yet, but of course it freaked me out - kids are sick, no one knows what's wrong, kids are dying, I can't watch this anymore. Of course, that scene is the first thing I think of when my child's fever gets high. Wonderful.

When you think about it, what is a fever, exactly? The medical community thinks that it's the body's response to get rid of an invading bacteria or virus. In some ways, fevers are kind of misunderstood and much maligned, which causes us to run around and panic more than anything else. So if it's the body natural response to fighting illness, which is just built right in (in most people, that is, unless your immune system is compromised), what does constantly throwing a fever reducer do to it? It lowers the body's natural defenses, letting more invaders in!

Doubling up on Motrin and Tylenol? Even worse. If a fever doesn't respond to either, then perhaps it's some cause for a call to the doctor - but when you douse it with both at one time, those "stubborn fevers" are just going to get even more stubborn - in fact, they may actually prolong the illness. Just what you always wanted, right?

Now we're seeing more variant strains of chicken pox (yes, even with vaccination!), scarlet fever and Coxsackie virus - that produce unusual symptoms. Could this be from gradual overuse of fever reducers? Who knows. But every time your child runs a fever, you could be thwarting the body's own natural defenses by not giving them half a chance to do their job, which leaves a child perhaps even more vulnerable to these new strains that keep showing up.

And with regards to Coxsackie virus, look for signs, be vigilant about watching temps and all that stuff - but please! Do yourself a favor and do not go all crazy with media reports - because they are going to make you psychotic with worry. There have been deaths from things like chicken pox, coxsackie virus, H1N1, etc. - and I wonder: were they using fever reducers? In the case of Swine Flu, it can actually increase the risk of death if you use it, which sounds contrary to what our government and health professionals tell us.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (FTW this time!) says "fever is good for you" and that the media (and just about everyone, it seems) has a "fever phobia." You'll probably notice this quickly - that stupid movie I watched didn't even treat it correctly. An ice bath is not recommended, because it can cause shivering, which actually raises the body's core temperature. And as far as brain damage is concerned, that generally happens around 107.6 degrees. What a difference a few degrees makes, huh?

More reading:
Scarlet fever on the rise
H1N1 and Fever Reducers: A Deadly Combination
Atypical strain of coxsackievirus caused outbreak of HFMD in four states
Pediatric Parenting Myths: Fever is Bad for You
Fighting Fever Phobia: The AAP

Monday, June 4, 2012

Can 'being healthy' make you sick?

If you have been fully vaccinated, wash your hands regularly and take antibiotics when you are sick, most would consider that a picture of 'health.' But there could be a cruel irony in this: are we actually sicker because of it?

Does it seem like it's getting
 to the point where you can name
more people with cancer than without?
Photo credit: Virus,
Andrzej Pobiedzinski
Last month was Brain Tumor Awareness Month, and this month is Congenital Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month. What do the two have to do with each other? Apparently a lot.

I've read two interesting articles that link the two - one is a common virus that produces flu-like symptoms and occurs in many children and about four out of five adults; another is a potentially deadly condition that claims the lives of adults every day. Back in April my husband and I said goodbye to a friend who had suffered through treating brain cancer, losing his battle after about 14 months (the average) and at age 40. In reading up on his condition, I was alarmed to learn that this type of brain tumor, a glioblastoma, is the most aggressive form of brain cancer there is and affects about 10,000 people per year.

Groundbreaking research has been ongoing to determine the cause of these tumors, with fascinating results. One physician took his own time, off the clock, to analyze the tumors of dozens of victims. What he found was no doubt shocking: each tumor was "riddled" with CMV, or cytomegalovirus. Could the cause of these invasive tumors be viral?

The samples that Dr. Cobbs studied came from
mostly older, well-educated and from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Their “hyper-hygienic” lifestyles had possibly left their immune systems susceptible to more common viruses, such as the human cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a herpes virus so ubiquitous that it infects 4 of 5 Americans.
His research - and an article by Dr. Amy, of all people - asked the same question I was thinking in my mind: would treating these tumor patients with an antiviral medication improve their outcomes?

The words "older, well-educated, higher socioeconomic background" and "hyper-hygienic" made me think of a type of person in particular: someone who is educated, reasonably affluent with a good job - and good insurance. Someone who is likely to have regular access to a physician when they are sick, perhaps asking for antibiotics - and a regular source of income to pay for those medications.

Could be a hunch, but I'm sure there are lots of us - myself included - who probably fit that mold.

Now doctors are seeing more and more of these aggressive cancers in young people - especially among teenagers. According to this article, the numbers are steady despite increased mobile phone use, and some teens don't even use, or own, a cell phone. Could the cause of tumors in people so young be congenital CMV - acquired before they were even born?

One thing that has increased since our parents and grandparents were small: the sheer number of vaccinations each generation is "required" to get. My kids are vaccinated, and I think some are necessary, but the absolute absurd number of shots that you're expected to give your child is insane, and if I had it to do all over again I would definitely reconsider. I'm obviously not a pathologist, but one thing that caught my attention was the fact that this virus is also part of the herpes simplex virus - which is in the same family as chicken pox. Is it merely a coincidence that kids old enough to receive the first line of chicken pox vaccine back in 1995 also have a prevalence for these types of tumors?

In the 1980s, the "yuppie flu," or Epstein-Barr virus, made the news, fitting a similar profile to those who Dr. Cobbs studied. Several factors could be considered: our changing population tends to rely heavily on antibiotics and medicines now more than ever; more people tend to have more sexual partners (as the virus can be spread through bodily fluids, including through sexual contact), and vaccines are used more widely. Antibacterial hand soaps, in use since the 1980s, could have an impact on upsetting the balance of good bacteria in our bodies and our response to illness. And on top of that, now we have hand sanitizer (made with good old fashioned grain alcohol, which our kids can promptly lick off their hands and get drunk off of - wonderful).

Interestingly enough, researchers have found that there is virtually no decline in illness despite the widespread use of antibacterial hand soaps. Realizing that eating your pound of dirt was probably good for my kids, I stopped using them altogether.

It strikes me that perhaps those "yuppies" most afflicted are people with decent jobs who make good money and have great benefits - who don't want to lose work. Down time from an illness takes you away from projects and important business events, and means time lost - I don't begrudge anyone that. The chicken pox vaccine, for example, also seems more like a way to "guarantee" no lost work time taking care of a child, and no lost school days, either.

But what if the tremendous load on our bodies - whether it be from crap in our food that our body doesn't know how to process or get rid of, to the good-germ killing soap we bathe in, to the medications we take to keep us "healthy" - is actually doing more to kill us than keep us well?

Just because your arm didn't swell up, wither and fall off days after you received a vaccine or antibiotic doesn't mean that in the course of a lifetime or two the damage isn't being done, silently, invisibly, inside our own bodies. Years of "research" and studies that tell us one thing are being refuted - ideas are continually being challenged about what 'healthy' means, and how it can be obtained when we are so engrained, so entrenched in a world that is full of chemicals, pesticides, substances that surely have to be changing us - maybe not for the better - with every passing year, every decade, until we no longer recognize who we are and have no idea how to get back to the "roots" of our ancestors: because we can't. When the very fiber of our being - our unborn selves - is now contaminated with something we can't identify, how can you ever go back?

More reading:

Cancer cells? Brain Tumor Numbers Steady Despite Increased Mobile Phone Use: Scientific American
Viral brain cancer theory comes of age - Mind Hacks