Colds, Flu Shots, Ethics and Things
I am in the process of recovering from “the crud that is going around” – which is also called the common cold. There is also a lot of flu this year, but the virus I have had is not the flu. I have been through the real, and potentially deadly flu, and I can remember what it feels like after all these years.1 Beyond that, I am protected because I have had the flu shot.
I didn’t have the shot this year, or last year. I received the vaccine in about 1985 or 1986. I have not felt the need for a flu shot since then; and I have not had the flu since then. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about colds and flu this week, and I am writing out some of those thoughts in a fairly summary fashion.
A. Can you catch a cold from being out in the cold? I have read from time to time over the years that doctors say that going outside in cold weather or with wet hair is NOT a cause of the common cold.2 Rather, the various cold viruses are said to be quite contagious, so we catch a cold through contact with someone else who already has it. My reaction has always been: Why do you think they call it a “cold,” then?
It seems those doctors have not been listening to the name “cold” and have not been paying attention to the research. Doctors have also told us for many years that most of the cold viruses (and there are many types) are not very contagious.3 We are exposed to them all the time, but do not become ill until the conditions within and around our bodies make us susceptible.
That is only partially true. The rhinovirus, which is the most common cold virus, is easily spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, though it does not cause illness until it enters a body through the nose or the eyes and spreads from there to the lining of the nose and throat where new “baby” viruses are released or “shed” until overcome by the immune system. Infections occur in about 95% of the people who have the rhinovirus in their noses, though only some 75% develop cold symptoms.4 Those conditions arise frequently enough that adults normally suffer between two and five colds each year, while children may have as many as ten.5
In a very simple experiment, researchers at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff, UK, had 90 students chill their feet in cold water for 20 minutes and found that those students had twice as many colds over the next five days as a control group whose feet were not chilled.6 Is anyone surprised? More recently, a team led by Akiko Iwasaki of Yale University infected mouse cells with a rhinovirus and determined that the host cells produced less interferon – which aids immune cells in fighting the virus – when they were colder.7 This would indicate that resistance to such viruses decreases as the weather turns colder. Again, is anyone surprised?
B. Can vegetarians use the homeopathic alternative to the flu shot? Since my experience is that a flu shot is effective for at least 30 years, I don’t see why anyone would avoid the shot. Of course, I wouldn’t take it every year, or even every ten years; but “one and done” seems satisfactory. There are people who avoid the shot, however. Instead, many of them resort to homeopathic remedies, the most popular of which is Oscillococcinum (“Oscillo” for short), manufactured by the French company, Boiron. It is sold in more than 60 countries, with more than $20 million in annual sales in the United States alone (and it is much more popular in Europe).8
Oscillo was created by a French military physician, Joseph Roy, after the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1917. He microscopically examined the blood of flu victims and thought that he saw a strange type of bacteria that consisted of two balls and seemed to vibrate and to increase and decrease in size. Because of that oscillation, he called the organism “oscillococcinum.” Roy had studied homeopathy so he tried to find some other source of that strange organism to use to treat the flu. Somehow he found it in the liver and heart of the Barbary or Muscovy Duck. In 1925 he began preparing a homeopathic remedy using duck liver and heart extract as its basis.9
Although Oscillo is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, there have been relatively few scientific studies of its effectiveness. At least some of the studies that have been conducted have found that Oscillo does work to reduce and shorten flu symptoms.10 Many people take a dose weekly during flu season to keep from catching the flu at all, but I am not aware of any studies as to whether that is effective.
Since I don’t eat meat, I have felt that Oscillo is not an appropriate remedy for me. That would seem a reasonable conclusion except that Oscillo is sold as what is called a “200C” homeopathic dosage. That means that each molecule of the duck extract is mixed with 10400 molecules of water, and then infused in sugar crystals. In other words, all that is really there is sugar.
Based on that information, Oscillo is probably as free of meat as any substance there is. One would be more likely to find a duck molecule by dipping a thimble into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. With that dilution, the extract from the first duck killed in 1925 should have been sufficient to supply every person on Earth at least until the Sun expands and destroys life as we know it in a few hundred million years. Nevertheless, it is my understanding that Boiron kills more ducks each year, so I will still avoid it.
There is a homeopathic cold and flu remedy called “Alpha CF,” manufactured by Boericke & Tafel that seems to be vegetarian from its inception, and which some people have found effective.
C. Can those who are opposed to abortion ethically receive a flu shot? A serious issue in contemporary medical ethics is that various vaccines, such as that for rubella, are manufactured from viruses that were cultivated using tissues produced through the cell line of aborted human fetuses. To anyone who is opposed to abortion, the moral repugnance to receiving such a vaccine is obvious.
The Roman Catholic Church has considered the problem and responded, through the Pontifical Academy for Life, with a study that is summarized in a paper entitled (in translation) “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Foetuses.”11 Its conclusion was that if there is no alternative available, such vaccines may be used when there is a substantial benefit to the world’s children and the population as a whole.
There are many in the “pro-life” movement who feel strongly that any vaccine produced through measures employing cell lines from an aborted human fetus must be avoided and condemned. They also feel (as did the Vatican) that use of such vaccines are nothing less than cooperation in the evil and sinful acts of the pharmaceutical companies who produce them.
It will not be necessary to delve deeply into this important subject at this time because the flu vaccines that are currently being used do not employ cell lines from aborted fetuses in their production.12
That should be the end of this conversation – except. . . . Except there remains the consideration of mediate material cooperation with the “evil” drug companies. In other words, to what extent does the purchase and use of the flu vaccine provide the money and profits necessary to allow ongoing research with the fetal cell lines and indirectly support the contemporaneous use of the objectionable vaccines? Some have called for a boycott of all products of companies using such fetal cells in any way.
Further discussion is, I’m afraid, beyond the scope of this post; though we may revisit the issue at a later time.
D. And what about those doctors? This last section is perhaps slightly off-topic, so I will be brief. My wife recently received a letter from her physician which essentially said (and this is a paraphrase, even though I am using quotation marks): “If and when you are no longer covered through your employer-sponsored health insurance, please be advised that this office does not accept Medicare or Medicaid or Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplemental or any of those things. We will accept cash and will offer you a discounted price if you would like to pay for our services with cash.”
People all over the country are receiving letters like that one because many doctors are frustrated by the regulations and reimbursement rates of Medicare and Medicaid.13 That is understandable – I mean we have all had to deal with government bureaucracies. It should also be unacceptable.
The patients who are insured through Medicare and Medicaid are usually those with the greatest need for health care. The numbers are going to increase as the population continues to age; and the need for medical services within that population will also increase. The refusal of significant numbers of doctors to treat those who cannot pay cash is going to make it difficult for some of the most vulnerable members of our society to receive adequate medical care.
The government could certainly help by finding a way to be less bureaucratic or to provide higher rates of reimbursement. Doctors, though, have to cooperate and look to the good of their patients rather than of their pocketbooks. Many – perhaps most – have received federal assistance with costs of medical school, have received federal grants or training in federal hospitals and programs and they routinely rely on federal agencies such as the DEA, the CDC, the NIH and many others designed to help our medical personnel. It is disingenuous, at best, for them to turn around and refuse to accept patients who are relying on other equally important federal programs.
I certainly have some thoughts on what might be done to try to rectify the problem, but there is not room enough to go into those in this post. Perhaps this topic will also be revisited.
1. I recounted part of what I remember in “Day 30 – Healing – Part 1,” which is at http://ralstoncreekreview.com/day-30-healing-part-1/.
2. See, for example, “Can the Cold Give You a Cold?” by Linda Melone, medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, M.D., M.P.H. at http://www.everydayhealth.com/cold-and-flu/colds-and-the-weather.aspx.
3. Andrewes, C., The Common Cold (1965) at 187, as discussed at http://www.cf.ac.uk/biosi/subsites/cold/commoncold.html.
5. Johnston, S. and Holgate, S., “Epidemiology of Viral Respiratory Infections,” in Myint, S. and Taylor-Robinson, D, eds., Viral and Other Infections of the Human Respiratory Tract (1996) at 1-38, as discussed at http://www.cf.ac.uk/biosi/subsites/cold/commoncold.html.
6. Johnson, C. and Eccles, R., “Acute Cooling of the Feet and Onset of Common Cold Symptoms,” in Family Practice 22: 608-613 (2005) and discussed at http://www.cf.ac.uk/biosi/subsites/cold/commoncold.html.
7. Iwasaki, A, et al., “Temperature-Dependent Innate Defense Against the Common Cold Virus Limits Viral Replication at Warm Temperature in Mouse Airway Cells,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112: 827-832 (2015); abstract at http://www.pnas.org/content/112/3/827.
9. A skeptical but seemingly accurate early history of the remedy is found at http://www.homeowatch.org/history/oscillo.html.
10. The studies were summarized by R. T. Mathie, J. Frye and P. Fisher, in “Homeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and Treating Influenza and Influenza-Like Illness,” published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2015), and may be accessed at the National Center for Biotechnology Information website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0050298/.
11. The summary may be read at http://www.immunize.org/concerns/vaticandocument.htm.
12. http://www.cogforlife.org/vaccine-overview/. Children of God for Life is an organization that is very active in the fight for ethical vaccines and other consumer products. Its web site has a list of all the vaccines which now utilize cell lines from aborted fetuses. There are many, including MMR, hepatitis, chickenpox, shingles and even some of the newly proposed vaccines for Ebola.