Saturday, December 4, 2010

Packing, little kids and vaccines, fur vs. hair, etc.

The question came up "What is the difference between fur and hair?" It turns out that chemically they are the same thing. But there are two types of fur/hair. There's the furry undercoat that animals like some dogs have, which is a different density and consistency than the primary hair and is used to control internal body temperature - that is called guard hair. And then there's the hair that grows over that and is what grows on human's heads which is called primary hair. Humans have it and horses and dogs like my pitbull who need to wear coats when it's below freezing because her fur is so thin. So there ya go. There is no difference, it's just a way for folks to differentiate between the two types of fur/hair. The furry undercoat is called fur and the primary layer is called hair. I bet if you ask most people something about a "horse's fur" and they interrupt you and say "It's hair not fur" they will not be able to tell you what the difference is.

We're in the process of negotiation on the house we want to buy so all day today I've been packing up stuff to put in storage. We found a storage place down the street and put in our first load of boxes today. It still seems like there is a ton of work to be done to get our house ready to try and sell. It feels weird to packing up so much stuff and "staging" our house. We have to take down all our "personal touches" like family photos and everything and it's already feeling weird and impersonal.

Our house has been the house of plague this week. Early in the week I dragged my sad little butt to the doctor and they took a throat culture and tested me for mono because I was so fatigued, my glands were swollen and worst of all I had a horrible sore throat that had gotten worse over the last week. Both the quick strep test and the mono test came back negative, but they put me on antibiotics anyway and said they'd send the culture in for the 48 hour test for strep. After two doses of antibiotics the pain in my throat was completely gone and the next day I had a lot more energy so I deemed it Sir Alexander Fleming day.

Then yesterday I get a call from my doctor's office asking me if I was getting any better. I said I'd gotten a lot better so even if it wasn't strep it must've been bacterial. The nurse sounded a little hesitant and then told me that I didn't have strep, I had a staph infection, the same kind of staph infection as MRSA, so they were very concerned that I was getting better because if it was the MRSA strain it is drug-resistant. Eeek! I assured them I was almost 100% better after just two days so obviously it wasn't MRSA. But it wasn't really until today that it hit me what a close call that was. Geez. Of all the many things I worry about MRSA wasn't on my radar. But it's not that, it's a harmless staph bacteria that is going away so it's no big deal.

Yesterday my daughter woke up and threw up, so of course I had to call the doctor and make sure that wasn't a symptom of a staph infection. Which it is not. Then this morning she said she was itchy. Her dad didn't realize she'd had her vericella vaccine and was concerned she was coming down with chicken pox until I told him she'd had the vaccine and in fact had been exposed to it in preschool by one of the kids whose mother thought vaccines were evil so he brought chicken pox to preschool (you are contagious before the symptoms show ... and he did give one 2 year old chicken pox who then subsequently gave it to his 3 week old sister ... obviously vaccines are not worth it ... duh!). Anyway, my daughter asked me what a vaccine was.

I had to think fast to try and figure out how to explain passive-aquired immunity to a six year old. I didn't just want to say "It's a shot you get so you won't get sick," because she already knows that. She just got her flu shot week before last. So, I said that everytime you get sick, the cells in your immune system recognize the virus so they make a little team of cell warriors who will recognize that virus when you're exposed to it again and they will say, "Hark! We know you! We know how to defeat you!" Which is why you don't get the same virus twice, unless it has mutated enough to be considered a "new virus". When we get vaccines, it's like we're giving a map or description of the virus to our immune cells so that they can say, "Ok guys - this team is going to be on the look-out for this disease, we know what it looks like and how to fight it!" Then when she's exposed it her immune cell warriors will know how to defeat the virus without her getting sick. It got me thinking of making a little comic about viruses and little teams of warrior cells. Just like I used to imagine if we could create a Robo-Cell that could mutate but only on it's own volition without any interference from the HIV virus trying to make it mutate into more HIV viruses, then we'd be set. Of course, that is easier said (and drawn as a cartoon) than done obviously.

It's a simplistic explanation and probably not completely accurate as to how passive-aquired immunity works, but hopefully it's more on target than just saying, "You get a shot so you won't get sick." I try to go with my dad's example. When my daughter was three years old she asked her friend's uncle (who is a pilot) how planes fly and he said there were magic carpets in the wings. Then she asked my dad and he said, "Well, it's called the Bernoulli Principle ... here I'll draw you a picture of how it works." So, she was telling her friends, "Dat plane flies cuzza da benooly pincipal." I wonder if all kids would be in advanced learning classes if their parents answered their questions about the world with real answers? I once heard Richard Feynman say that he credits his dad for him becoming a scientist because his dad thought the way things work was so fascinating and was always questioning how the physical world worked and then searching for the answers.

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