I felt some queasiness as the plane descended to land in Tahiti, after a 4 hour flight from Auckland, New Zealand.  I’ve never been airsick, but I rationalized it that way.  After landing, we remained on the plane.  I felt worse, and then…..

When I awoke, having vomited all over my clothes, the seat, and myself, my wife asked me, “Are you all right?”

Obviously, I wasn’t.  My wife told me that I suddenly pulled “an exorcist,” threw up, had a seizure and became decerebrate.  That’s bad, and I won’t discuss the neurology, other than I briefly lost total function above my brain stem.  I didn’t feel too badly, although I threw away my shirt, the crew changed out the seat cushion, and I barfed two more times before we were airborne for LAX.  Those white bags are useful.

I got staphylococcal food poisoning from a cream pie I ate at the Auckland Airport.  A passenger in the row in front of me studied infectious disease and was thrilled to have a clinical example behind her.

That’s why food safety matters.  I probably should have been kicked off the flight.  But I lived. Food poisoning caused me to vomit, my heart rate and blood pressure fell, provoking a faint.  Children die here from bad food.  It makes the news.  Fifty-three people died in Germany in 2011; that epidemic cost $2.8 billion, so food safety regulations can save money, as well as lives, and are not government meddling.  Ayn Rand notwithstanding,  businesses don’t self-regulate.

Business has a friend in new Senator Mr. Tillis, (R-NC): ”I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy (requiring hand washing after using the bathroom) as long as they post a sign that says ‘we don’t require our employees to wash their hands after they use the restroom.’  The market will take care of that.”

Mr. Tillis won a close election when a lot of people didn’t vote. Elections matter.  Now we have to deal with him for 6 years.  We have a standard requiring people in the food service industry to clean their hands after using the toilet.  They may not wash their hands, just like business can cut corners, but we require it and inspectors, too, to ensure cleanliness.  The Republicans would like to get rid of inspectors, too, because “the market will take care of that.”

Jesse Kelly, who almost unseated Gabrielle Giffords in 2010, shortly before she was shot, stated, “I would not require food safety inspections.” Voters liked his looks, his wanting to dismantle the ACA, which has insured 11 million people, apparently caring neither about food safety nor about insuring the poor.

It is difficult to know how many people are sickened by restaurant food, but we estimate 76 million cases annually with 300,000 hospitalizations and 5000 deaths.  That’s worse than 9/11.  We finally have a standard that doesn’t allow any E.coli in beef, but no such standard exists for chicken.  High rates of Campylobacter are in store chicken; E. coli are still in both products.  Left to “market forces,” does anybody think companies would worry about bacteria in beef if the government didn’t make them?  The NRA prevents the CDC from doing research on firearm violence; is Mr. Tillis going to introduce a bill banning research into food-borne illness?  Perhaps “the market” will sort it out.  Or the graveyards.

I volunteer in a school where peanut butter sandwiches, which I love, are not allowed, because of peanut allergies, a relatively new phenomenon. I can adjust my behavior, but I wonder why there aren’t signs that say “Unvaccinated Children in this Room.”

Ever had measles?  I have.  It’s the sickest I’ve ever been; 90% of my generation had it.  Measles is one of the most infectious viruses in existence, more than Ebola, with a 1 in 1000 chance of causing encephalitis, brain inflammation.  That is scary.

Pertussis?  My mother had that. Kids die from pertussis, or whooping cough.  Adults can get it, too, here and now.

How about Rubella, my generation’s favorite disease?  We got to stay home, and we felt fine.  Oh, one problem: if an unvaccinated kid gets rubella and the teacher, also unvaccinated, happens to be pregnant, the baby may be born with congenital rubella syndrome: mental retardation, deafness and cataracts. Rare?  My wife’s relative takes care of her middle-aged son, who has it.

Mumps?  There is a 40% chance of orchitis, testicular inflammation.  That is painful and might lead to sterility.  My brother had mumps meningitis.

Polio?  That killed 4000 Americans a year; some, paralyzed and in iron lungs, actually wished they were among the dead.  We stayed at home in summer, away from crowded beaches.  Jonas Salk’s injectable vaccine was so dramatically effective that the trial was stopped early.  Another brother had polio.

Herd immunity?  It exists, but what right do parents have to opt out?   Is it not child abuse to put children at risk for these and other diseases?  Ever see tetanus?  I have.  Should we let parents opt out of child care seats?  Should we let children play with guns? If that isn’t convincing, what happens when their child goes to a Third World country where these diseases are endemic? Have they thought of that?  Yes, polio is usually asymptomatic, and measles may not produce encephalitis, but why risk them when there is a vaccine?

To my generation, vaccines, including the one that decreased H. flu meningitis by 99.9%, were huge medical advances.  They occurred when science education was an American priority, when we believed in science and public education, not faith healing or for profit charters, made children get vaccinated and did it in the schools.

Ironically, my generation is getting vaccinated for pneumococcal pneumonia and shingles.  No, these aren’t perfect, but I’ve seen the misery of post-herpetic neuralgia, which has caused some to commit suicide.

Physician Ron Paul once spoke to an anti-pasteurization group.  I assume he knew something about brucellosis, otherwise called undulant fever.  Pasteurization made brucellosis rare. We now want to go backward and risk Typhoid, Listeria and Tuberculosis, too?

Perhaps we should consider that the chemicals we have dumped into our environment and our fetish with total cleanliness could be factors causing many childhood afflictions, instead of focusing on vaccines.  Perhaps instead of worrying about Ebola, which was limited, even in Africa, we ought to worry about measles, polio, E. coli, salmonella, and other scourges, all potentially treatable, which are microbial terrorists, with potential to do far more harm than two legged ones.

We haven’t become healthier by prayer.  We got healthier because of science, research, double-blind studies, good statistics, and legislating cleanliness, safety, vaccinations, and anything else that improved the public good, because we knew companies wouldn’t do it on their own.  The companies screamed it would put them out of business.

And the Dow keeps hitting new highs.  Market forces.


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