Sunday, April 1, 2012

A rant on a personal pet peeve

I was just forwarded an article from about the delayed flu season. It was one of the worst science articles I have ever read. The article clearly demonstrates why science education is necessary for basic everyday living and how this country is grossly scientifically illiterate. The premise of the article is that the delayed flu season is "bizarre" and will now coincide with allergy season. The author shows some surveillance maps from the CDC to back her claim and relayed a story about a school district in Missouri that had to close because of the "flu". She then quotes the superintendent who talks about norovirus (wait what), then a Dr. about the 'stomach flu' (uncontrollable rage building). The rest of the article she spends interchanging facts about norovirus and influenza as if they are the same thing including a link on where to get the flu vaccine followed by tips on how to avoid the flu, that are actually tips on how to avoid noroviruses. (FULL ON RAGE-HATE).
(Deep breath Brian. Calm yourself.)
First things first. There is no such thing as 'the stomach flu', 'the 24 hour flu', or 'a touch of the flu'. Flu is caused by the influenza virus and only the influenza virus. It is a respiratory disease; it affects your lungs, your airways, and your nasal passages. If you get the flu you are not touched and it does not last one day. You are hit full force with a sledgehammer of sick for three to seven days.
Norovirus on the other hand is an enteric virus (stomach bug). It symptoms include feeling like a bomb went off inside of you, moderate to severe diarrhea, and vomiting (age dependent) for about 24 hours. Noroviruses transmit via fecal-oral contamination. Someone doesn't wash their hands after "a bathroom episode" and uses a doorknob/handrail/atm/etc. You then use that doorknob/handrail/atm/etc. and then pop a stick of gum in your mouth/adjust your lipstick/absentmindedly chew your nails and BAM! you're next. Flu can spread in a similar manner (minus the fecal part), but also is transmitted through the air.
"Oh Brian," you might say, "you're just arguing semantics. What does it matter if people call it 'the stomach flu' or not?" It matters because of perception. When you have a tummy ache and your Dr. says "you have a touch of the flu or the 24 hour flu." You go home and eat some chicken noodle soup and the next day you feel better and head to work. Next year rolls around and its time to get the flu shot. You think to yourself, "Shots sucks. I had the flu last year and it wasn't so bad. Uuuhhhh... Yeah, I'm gonna skip it." Vaccination rates drop. Then just to be safe you decide to head to the internet to get some tips on how to avoid the flu. You end up on a very heavily traveled site and read an article that freely interchanges three or four different pathogens and diseases and you make a note of the table titled "Ways to keep the flu at bay" that actually contains a list of how to prevent norovirus. You are now unvaccinated, religiously cleaning your toilet, and disinfecting your kitchen. You are unprotected against the flu, but hey, at least you probably won't end up with the screaming squirts.

Ok. Rant over. Here is the link if you want to get dumber. Please don't share this with anyone else. I have written a strongly worded letter to expressing my dismay at this article and really hope others do too (when did I turn into a cranky old man?).

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