Sunday, November 15, 2009

Flu-Delayed Halloween: Seasonal Flu and H1N1 Could Not Stop These Other-Worldly Creatures from Scaring the Neighbors.

The neighbors didn't know what to think.

Though Halloween was days past, a marauding pirate, a white-gowned “corpse” princess fresh from the grave, and various scary monsters and other-worldly ghouls, gathered at our house. On an otherwise beautiful and peaceful Sunday fall afternoon, they menaced every human being in sight.

Neighbors peered warily out of windows and cracked-open doors, wondering if they should call the police or at least Animal Control. One drove by several times trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Was the Pollock household, rumored to be, well, “different,” finally showing its true colors?

I hear murmurs of assent, loud ones.

The gavel pounds. Order in the court. Order in the court. The defense will speak. Go ahead, counsel.

Defense counsel: So many of the kids had the flu on the actual Halloween that it had to be canceled. They didn't get to wear their costumes, didn't get to do Trick or Treat, didn't get to take part in this hallowed rite of childhood. So the Pollocks simply rescheduled a Halloween II.They did it for a bunch of kids that the flu had cheated out of Halloween I.

The defense rests. The jury, now out, will decide if Halloween II was a good idea or not.

Of our nine grandkids, eight had been sick. Aidan, 7, and Nathaniel, 4, who are brothers, both got fevers. Aidan got Influenza A, a form of H1N1 or swine flu, which turned into pneumonia. Nathaniel had a fever, but managed to avoid the flu. Their parents gave antibiotics to both.

The two of them gave their parents, who are well aware of what pneumonia and flu can do, many anxious moments. Thankfully, the boys responded well to treatment. Both received the anti-viral Tamiflu. On the morning of Halloween II, a restored-to-health Aidan and Nathaniel put on an impromptu heavy metal (literally)concert in our living room.

Aidan and Nathaniel were overnight guests the night before Halloween II while Mom and Dad went off for a breather from days of sick watch. The boys could not stay for Halloween II because of a previously scheduled gig for the Pollock Band, a birthday party. The Pollock Band is going to be big.

Sisters Mia,7, and Bella,6, both got the seasonal flu. They are shown here. Mia is Her Majesty the Queen, royalty from crown to toe. Bella is the undead princess whose ashen face and blackened eyes mark her as a creature fresh from the grave. Max is the swashbuckling pirate. I am the out-of-place grownup male human.

In the third household of four grandkids, only Seamus, 6, did not get sick. His sister Riley, 2, and brothers Liam, 4, and Connor, 9, all came down with the flu. Riley is the large ladybug, Liam the little green monster, and Connor the bruising Boston Bruins defenseman.

At Halloween II, all the grandkids were their old healthy selves. They spent the afternoon chasing each other and pretty much acting like fiendish ghouls, grrring monsters, and slashing pirates. In the process, they trampled plants, spread mulch where it shouldn't be, and toppled my stone walls in two places.

I didn't care. I'll rebuild the walls and put the yard back together again. Healthy again and full of it, they had a great time. They played games nonstop, pausing only for eats and a group picture on the back porch. Here is a shot of the gang on the back porch, with little Seanie charging the camera.

The most popular game by far was banging out the candy stuffed into a pinata dangling from the garage entrance. With the smallest ones going first, the kids took turns banging for the candy. They cheered whenever candy fell out and raced to scoop it up. The photo shows Liam smacking the pinata with all his considerable might.

With flu pandemic having invaded my little world by attacking my grandkids, I began to pay attention. I found myself watching C-span and listening to Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In her crisp U.S. Navy Admiral's uniform and quietly authoritative speaking voice and manner, Admiral Schuchat, a medical doctor, explained the flu pandemic for an increasingly frightened American public. She said that an estimated 22 million Americans have been sickened with swine flu since April. Of these, 3,900 have died.

She said that the data relected the virus's toll in its first six months, through October 17. Flu season in the U.S. Lasts through May. “I am expecting all these numbers, unfortunately, to continue to rise,” she said.

The CDC has announced that of the 3,900 deaths since April, 129 have been children. The agency estimates that 8 million children have had the swine flu, or H1N1, and that 36,000 have had to be hospitalized. Most of the deaths, about 2,900, have been people 18 to 64. The elderly, over 65, accounted for 440 deaths. Us oldies -- I'm 71 – apparently have built up some immunity to the H1N1 flu from exposure to similar viruses.

Admiral Schuchat acknowledged that vaccine shipments have been delayed and that many people have had difficulty getting the H1N1 vaccine. She asked Americans to be patient. “It's a marathon and not a sprint,” she said. “More vaccine is being ordered and delivered and used every day.”

The U.S. has ordered about 250 million vaccine doses from five manufacturers, with the largest orders made to Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA. But as the manufacturers struggle to grow the virus used to make the vaccine, estimates of its availability have been repeatedly been scaled back.

Admiral Schuchat makes the assumption that the vaccine is safe, without harmful side effects, and that all Americans should get flu shots. “We haven't so far seen anything that is of concern or extra concern,” she said, “but we're reviewing reports that we get every day.”

For a video of Admiral Schuchat new conference and further U.S Government information on the flu, click here.

The reality is that there is a good deal of ambivalence out there about the H1N1 vaccine. One doctor, Perri Klass, whose clinic vaccinates children against the H1N1 virus, wrote in The New York Times that his nonmedical friends seem evenly divided into two camps.

One half says, “Oh, my God, our doctor doesn't have it! Can you get me a dose?” And with the other half, it is something like, “Oh, my god, that brand-new vaccine – do you really think it's safe?”

Dr. Klass says that many doctors are getting frantic calls from parents desperate for the vaccine. But, at the same time, these same doctors are coming up against parents “who are determined to refuse that same vaccine,” Dr. Klass wrote.

And wouldn't you know, I happen to have my own expert on the H1N1 vaccine: my sister Marion. She is an R.N who was formerly Executive Director of Nursing at a large Massachusetts hospital. She is running H1N1 clinics for the Massachusetts Public Health Department.

She says it has been crazy. She described the scene at an H1N1 clinic she did this week at Galvin Middle School in Wakefield, Mass. “They start lining up at 2:30 for a five to seven clinic and the parents are there with babies, strollers, kids – lots and lots of kids – and the line is way down the street. The local paper, the Wakefield Daily Item, published a picture of the line.

“With one hour of prep, it is three hours of nonstop work with needles and injections. The little ones wiggle and squeal and it often takes two nurses to hold down a child. It's still like trying to hit a moving target. We give the H1N1 first and then the seasonal. You should hear the parents. They are so grateful. 'Oh, thank God,' they say. 'Thank you, thank you, thank you...'”

Marion said that so far it has been “an awful year.” Despite the clinics working 24/7, she said, “we have just not been able to keep up.” She has now run out of seasonal flu and does not know when she will be getting more in.

Our sister Ruby, a social worker and manager at a rest home, has the same problem. Normally she would have had all her residents vaccinated by now, but her outside supplier does not have the vaccine. As of this writing, Ruby does not know when her residents will get the vaccine. Living in a group setting, the residents are considered high-risk.

Marion said she is going to pass on her next scheduled H1N1 clinic. “You know what,” she said. “It's been too much, too much of a crunch. Plus I got a little sore throat. When you think of it, at the clinic there's lots of passing germs around.”

With a meeting coming up with my health care provider at the VA on December 1, I have some decisions to make. I have already decided that I will get a shot for pneumonia. Based on my age and health profile -- over 65 and no underlying health issues -- the VA has told me that I am not eligible for the swine flu vaccine.

Even if I were, I could not get it. As of November 15, the VA clinic in Worcester, Mass. where I go had run out of it. But should I get vaccinated against the seasonal flu and H1N1?

“Absolutely,” Marion said. “I've had mine and I've given my son Jimmy his.” That's one strong argument. Marion is an informed expert who falls squarely in the corner of those who believe strongly that the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines are a must and completely safe.

But there are plenty of physicians who disagree. Dr. Joseph Mercola is one of the fiercest critics of flu vaccines. “Studies show that flu vaccines are unsafe and ineffective,” Dr. Mercola says flatly. He describes influenza as a contagious viral respiratory infection that is typically overcome naturally after two or three days of bed rest.

He says that death caused directly by the flu virus is very rare. The vast majority of “flu deaths” are in fact due to bacterial pneumonia and a weak immune system, he contends. He writes: “For most people the flu shot does not make you healthy; it does just the opposite and weakens your immune system. If you follow a healthy lifestyle, you will not have to worry about getting the flu. Take it from me – I've never received a flu shot, and I haven't missed a day of work due to illness in over 20 years.”

For more on Dr. Mercola's views and studies on which they are based, see

Another influential critic of flu vaccine is Dr. Larry Palevsky, a Board-certified pediatrician who trained at New York School of Medicine. He favors natural immunity over vaccine-induced immunity because the natural illness has greater influence on the health of your body.

Says Dr. Palevsky: “In medical school, the mentors that I had saw children in their practices in the 40s, 50s and all the way up to the 80s getting these flu-like illnesses who were properly treated with rest, fluids and proper supplementation.

Those kids had developmental growth spurts after the illnesses were over.
There is something to say for these viral illnesses that impart a certain boosting of the immune system of your children. And if we’re not letting them have these illnesses, what are we doing to their immune systems? Aren’t we actually hampering their overall health?”

Dr. Palevsky goes on: You need to understand that there’s a significant difference between natural immunity and vaccination immunity. When children are born, they develop natural immunity to hundreds, thousands, millions, and even trillions of microorganisms that they breathe in, eat, and touch through their skin. Their immune systems at the lining of their airways, at the lining of their intestines, and on their skin are actively protecting their body from the outside world.

Those immune systems that are intricately and specifically located in the linings are very important to create memory and protection to the organisms that they continue to breathe, eat, and touch. That immune system response then has a domino effect on creating other memory and immune responses that give your body antibodies and protection.

That’s a very important step for how the immune system matures in our children. From the linings, the immune system receives information, sends out signals to all other parts of the immune system, and creates an immune response, memory, and antibodies.
On the other hand, when you inject materials into your body, you are bypassing that crucial first step called the primary line of defense.

With vaccination you are just creating an antibody. That does NOT impart long-term immunity because it does not create the kind of memory that occurs when you breathe it in, eat it, or are exposed through the skin, and then go through the course of the natural disease.

For more from Dr. Palevsky, go to

Now I understand better why my naturopathic friends go apoplectic when I say that I am thinking of getting vaccinated for seasonal flu and H1N1. But I also cannot take lightly the strong support of the flu vaccine by Admiral Anne Schuchat of CDC. Nor can I discount the advice of another expert that I respect, my sister Marion.

And just the other day, The World Health Organization declared that antiviral medicines and antibiotics used in a timely manner can help save the lives of people sick with the H1N1 influenza. The WHO also issued updated recommendations through its Medical Officer in the Clinical Aspects of Influenza, Dr. Nikki Shindo:

“Firstly, people in at-risk groups need to be treated with antiviral medicine as soon as possible when they have flue symptoms. This includes pregnant women, children under two years old and people with underlying conditions, such as respiratory problems. Secondly, people who are not from high-risk groups, but who have persistent or rapidly worsening symptoms should also be treated with antivirals.Thirdly, people who have developed pneumonia should be given antivirals and antibiotics because bacterial infections can develop.”

However, Dr. Shindo does not recommend antiviral treatment for people not at high risk and who are experiencing only mild illness. At 71 and in good health, that would be someone like me. Does this give me an out on my getting a flu shot?

Yet, she goes on to say: “The pandemic virus can cause very severe pneumonia even in healthy young people, though rather minor in proportion. And the virus can take lives within a week. The window of opportunity is very narrow to reverse the progression of the disease. The medicine needs to be administered before the virus destroys the lungs.”

So long and keep moving.

P.S. For good basic offical U.S. Government information about seasonal and swine flu, see

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