A recent study in Taiwan has brought to light a probable link between that extremely nasty and disabling autoimmune disease Multiple Sclerosis, and our old friend Varicella Zoster (which also calls itself Chickenpox or Shingles). Some sort of link had already been suspected between the herpes viruses (a band of microscopic ‘hood thugs which lurk in the nervous system, sneering at passers-by and occasionally going on a rampage) and MS, which is the result of damage to the myelin sheath that protects our nerves and enables them to deliver their electric messages despite Rain, Sleet, or Glom of Nit. However, this is the first study to say: yes, there is.
The trouble is, they can’t yet say what the link is. Does the slow onset of MS (the study took cases that were diagnosed with MS up to a year after the shingles attack) trigger the shingles episode? Or was it shingles that kickstarted the MS? Is V. Zoster the only herpes virus involved, come to that?
Fortunately MS is a very rare disease (especially among Asians, lucky sods). In my life so far, I have met only two people suffering from it. It tends to attack the young, between the ages of 20 and 40. If a causal link can be established to something like V. Zoster for which a vaccine exists (once you’re infected it is incurable, although drugs like acyclovir may help reduce the severity of episodes), this may open the way to more effective treatments and prevention for MS.
The late Spike Milligan once wrote “The Army works like this: if a man dies when you hang him, keep hanging him until he gets used to it”. I get the distinct impression that a small, but significant proportion of what passes for civilised (and supposedly educated) humanity also subscribes to this dangerous philosophy. From Wikipedia:
A pox party is a party held by parents for the purpose of infecting their children with childhood diseases, most commonly chickenpox, thus acquiring some immunity to the disease. According to the Washington Post, parents who expose their children to the virus in this manner believe that this method is “safer and more effective than using vaccines.”
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that “pox” as a generic term also includes smallpox and syphilis – would any sane parent deliberately expose their child to those? – how do these people justify their actions? Vaccination exists, is effective (greatly reducing the risk of contracting the disease, and attenuating the severity if you are unfortunate enough to contract it despite vaccination) and easily available.
The reasoning is simple, though rooted in strange logic and astonishing arrogance. Arguments advanced to justify a deliberate attempt to make your children ill include:
One of the recurrent myths associated with a number of illnesses generally contracted during childhood is that they are relatively benign, and it’s better to get them over with while you’re young as when you’re older it would be so much worse.
Did you know that there’s at least one “childhood” illness where you can have your cake and eat it? Get it “over with” while you’re young (although at best you’ll almost certainly have at least one scar for life) and have it so much worse when you’re older?
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to proudly present: Varicella Zoster, aka chickenpox/shingles, or Type 3 Herpes. Yep, it’s one of the Big 8 (a term that was used to describe the multinational accountancy firms when I was a student, and as an accountant I find this strangely appropriate).
One very widespread popular misconception is that chickenpox is a benign disease. It can in fact entail some nasty complications, especially in people who are immunodeficient or exposed to smoke. With luck, if the unbearably itchy spots don’t get infected after scratching, any remaining scars will be in places not usually exposed to public view. If it’s on your face, well, sucks to be you. It’s there for life (I still have my scar, but no-one gets to see it unless they’re very, very nice to me. Lucky me). Current wisdom is that the disease is usually less severe in children than in adults; however, please note that “usually” is not the same as “always”.