Friday, October 17, 2014

A Medical Rant with "Doctor" Laura

Note that for the purposes of this lecture, I am addressing people who probably aren't you. Most of you know me and have heard this lecture before, so don't feel bad. You know this already. You're a good person. I like you. That's why we're friends. 

For the purposes of this post, "flu" means influenza, which is the flu's real name. Flu is a nickname, and sometimes it is used for other illnesses that aren't ACTUALLY influenza, because people tend to think they have the flu when they throw up. People are mostly wrong about that.

Also I used the quotation marks in the title of this post because I'm not really a doctor. I don't have any of the certificates or special letters next to my name. I just spend time in a library reading medical textbooks for fun. Also that one time hundreds of copies of the Journal of the American Medical Association fell off a shelf and onto my face, one after the other, until the shelf was empty. I'm pretty sure that experience knocked some medical training into my head. (It also gave me paper cuts on my face.) 

Are you a medical professional? If you are, you'll notice I'm dumbing this way down for the purposes of humor. This is because giving you a ten page essay on how the flu virus spreads and how the vaccine is really made would be super boring to people who don't care about those sorts of things. If you want to chat about influenza, we can have coffee later and enjoy ourselves.

Let's talk flu shots, people.

It is not physically or psychically possible to catch the flu from a flu shot. 

Stop saying that you do. It makes me crazy, and I am one more flu-shot rant away from throwing something heavy at you and walking away while you're still talking because I can't handle pretending you aren't driving me mad anymore.

Let me quote Sherlock by telling you to shut up because, "you lower the IQ of the whole street." 

One more and I'll stop insulting you. I found too many of these, and they're all funny.

Via The Happy Hospitalist Blog, in this hilarious post.

Here's the thing. The flu shot is a dead vaccine. What does that even mean? It means that they took a blob of flu viruses and they killed them stone dead. This is the microscopic equivalent of me walking into my yard and massacring millions of that hideous invasive species of ladybug that swarm everywhere in the state during this time of year.

The ladybugs would be dead. Their little legs would curl up. They would stink (those ladybugs ALWAYS stink). They would not be able to fly around. Because dead. All kinds of dead. Dead like Jack at the end of Titanic. Nothing can bring them back. They are in ladybug heaven, where they can land on everything and everyone they see, stinking forever and being generally useless.

Someone who is actually a medical professional, at some fancy lab, takes the corpses of  the flu viruses and makes them into dead flu virus soup. Mmmm mmm good, just like Campbell's makes, except with less salt. WAY less salt.

The dead flu virus soup is now a vaccine. It gets shoved into tiny vials and shipped all over the country and maybe the WORLD.

Now, because viruses are't a copy machine, when they replicate, the next virus generations are sometimes different. This is called a "mutation," which is what happens when a thing is one way and then suddenly another way in the next generation. Kind of like when humans have kids. Your kids aren't you. They aren't your partner, either. They are both of you PLUS mutation, because DNA sucks at being perfect. Sometimes it screws up. DNA is people too (unless its mouse. Or horse. Or plant. Or virus.). We call these new varieties of virus STRAINS. Like, you are STRAINING my patience.

Except no.

Because the flu changes, we can't just make one vaccine, give it to kids, and end up with everyone immune to the flu, although that would be awesome. No, the flu virus wants us to suffer, so every time there is a new strain, we have to make a new vaccine. But heck, that creates jobs for hungry scientists who need a place to live and food to eat, so good for the flu, doing what no politician has been able to manage since FDR.

That is why you need a new vaccine every year. And now you know how the flu works. You're already smarter.

Let's go back to those ladybug corpses. Now, if I shot those ladybugs into my veins, would they come back to life?


I would probably also die, but the ladybugs would stay dead. Very dead. Augustus Waters dead.*

The flu virus is the same. If you shoot dead flu virus into your body, it stays dead. It floats around, dead, until your body gets rid of it for you.

"But LAURA," you whinge. "This one time, I TOTALLY GOT SICK from my flu shot!!! WHYY???"

There are several reasons this might have happened.

  1. You did not have the flu. Wimp. You had a cold, or you had a weird other thing that doctors classify as a "flu-like illness" that is what scientists call things that look like the flu but aren't the flu and don't actually have a name of their own, or you think that throwing up means you have the flu, when really that isn't usually the flu, that's a gastrointestinal illness that humans usually get when they (or someone else) fails to wash their hands after pooping. WASH YOUR HANDS.
  2. You already had the flu. Sometimes you go to the pharmacy or the doctor's office or a health fair and they give you a flu shot, but you already have live virus in your body from that one dude in line at the grocery store who coughed all over you like a plague victim. Blame him, not the shot. The vaccine can't get rid of live flu viruses, so you're stuck with the flu if you already have it when you get vaccinated. Next time check your temperature before you get the flu shot before checking that little box on the questionnaire. 
  3. You caught a strain of flu that the vaccine wasn't designed to cover. Remember those mutated flu viruses? You got one, but the scientist didn't have it in his lab to kill, so the dead virus soup doesn't protect you from it. Sorry. This happens sometimes. Although hardly ever, and not since 2007 and before 2007 it was 15 years since it had happened. This almost never happens.
  4. You had a reaction to the vaccine. Everyone has a reaction to the vaccine. You are SUPPOSED to have a reaction to the vaccine. This happens because your immune system sees dead virus and is like, "WTF?!!! WE HAVE TO STOP THIS!!!" And it tries to kill something that's already dead, because your immune system is dumb, so dumb, dumb like a rock or a stick. Dumber than the stick, actually. So much dumb.
  5. You are allergic to the vaccine. This is super rare, and you'd know it if you were because you'd have been hospitalized or you'd have died already. I'm not writing this blog post for corpses. Corpses can go somewhere else for their entertainment.
And now for the summary of today's lesson:

This awesome infographic is via Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes.
I got all the information from this post from high school human biology class. I remember things. If you want to learn more about influenza, talk to your doctor, Google it (Wikipedia, when I checked it last, was pretty accurate on this topic), or ask a question in the comments and I will use my mad librarian skills to answer it. 

Think I should rant like this more often? Want to suggest a topic? Let me know that in the comment, too.

* Too soon?

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