Thursday Things

1. I made my annual pilgrimage to ZooLights on Saturday, along with five zillion of my closest friends.

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The weather on Saturday night was about as nice as you could hope for in mid-December (40s, little to no wind, no precipitation), so Lincoln Park Zoo, unsurprisingly, was a bit on the crowded side. But I did not let that deter my enjoyment!

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I’ve been to ZooLights several times in the past, and it’s usually the same ol’ same ol’. This year, though, a fair number of the light displays were in different locations, or changed entirely, as was the case with the dancing lights.

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They were Alice in Wonderland themed this year! I thought that was pretty cool.

Then on Sunday, I went to see the Q Brothers Christmas Carol at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which I think could best be described as “the Hamilton version of A Christmas Carol” (i.e.: it was A Christmas Carol told via hip hop music).

I honestly had no idea what to expect going into it, but I was pleasantly surprised! The show was creative, funny, and highly entertaining. I definitely, definitely recommend going if you’re able.

2. Folks, I hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but my silence on this topic has gone on long enough. It is time that I, your friendly neighborhood medical non-professional (but AP Bio exam grade 5 receiver a decade ago *hair flip*), reeducate you on some remedial immunology and pathology, because the amount (and frequency) of misinformation I’ve encountered regarding a certain three-letter word (“flu”) over the past month or so has made me want to pull my hair out, weep for humanity, or both.

There exists, in this fallen world of ours, a virus that goes by the name of influenza. It is a cunning, nasty little bug, one that can easily knock a healthy person on his or her back for a week, and kills thousands of people every year. A particularly terrible strain of this bug killed up to 100 million people–most of the young, healthy people, in fact–beginning 100 years ago next month.

There are three types of influenza, A, B, and C, all of which create an upper respiratory system infection whose symptoms will almost exclusively affect parts of your body that belong to that system. Influenza will almost always feel like a cold that’s been dialed up to 20. Your nose will run, your head will hurt, you’ll have a fever, your throat will hurt, you’ll be fatigued. It won’t be fun at all. If you happen to get an early diagnosis, you might get prescribed Tamiflu, an antiviral–and that is key, because influenza is a VIRUS, not a BACTERIA, so what does that mean? That anibiotics–drugs created to kill BACTERIA–will not help you–that could shorten the duration of your symptoms, but most certainly won’t cure you within 12 hours.

Influenza is particularly susceptible to genetic change (because it only has one strand of genetic code [RNA], not two like we have [DNA], which means there is no built-in spellcheck to make sure the code doesn’t change upon replication), which is why it’s so important to get a flu shot every year, even if you’re someone like me who gets dizzy at the mere sight of a syringe. When you get the flu shot, your immune system will learn to recognize the variations of the flu the World Health Organization has predicted will be the most prevalent in the upcoming flu season. Your immune system remembers pathogens (bugs) it has seen before, which is the whole point of vaccination: put a dead or weakened bug into someone’s body so the immune system can learn to recognize it when it doesn’t pose an actual threat to your health. Thus, when a live version of the bug enters your system, your immune system will say, “Hey, we’ve seen this before!” and destroy it before it has a chance to destroy you. Because influenza evolves so rapidly, it’s entirely possible that you’ll still get the flu even if you had a flu shot, but it’s less likely, and if you do happen to still get sick, there’s a decent chance you’ll get less sick than if you hadn’t gotten the shot. So go get a flu shot, because it’s important for your health and the health of those around you who are unable to get flu shots for whatever reason.

On a note that is as different from the previous note as black is from white, throughout the course of your life, you will likely be stricken with the wildly unpleasant experience of gastroenteritis, sometimes most misleadingly referred to as the “stomach flu.” If there is anything–anything–I hope you EVER remember from reading my humble blog, it’s this:

THE STOMACH FLU IS A MISNOMER. IT IS NOT THE FLU, AND A FLU SHOT WILL NEVER, EVER, EVER PREVENT YOU FROM GETTING IT.

I truly can’t drive that point home enough. It doesn’t matter if you are the best flu shot getter in the entire world: absolutely no amount of flu vaccine will ever, EVER keep you from getting the stomach flu, which I will henceforth refer to EXCLUSIVELY as “gastroenteritis” or “a stomach bug,” because they are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CONDITIONS WITH COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CAUSES. CAPS LOCK NECESSARY.

If you are ill and your symptoms primarily impact your gastrointestinal system, particularly if you are vomiting and especially if you have diarrhea, and even more so if you do not have any sort of runny nose, sore throat, or cough, you almost certainly have contracted one of many, many diseases that cause gastroenteritis, which is a condition, not a disease, in the same way that a runny nose is a condition, not a disease. Gastroenteritis means that your stomach and/or intestines are inflamed. Why are they inflamed, you ask? Because you have a bug that has infected them, and your immune system is trying to make them go away.

What kinds of bugs cause gastroenteritis? A LOT. But, the ones you commonly see include any of the major bacteria that get lumped into the larger category of “food poisoning” (E. coli, salmonella, listeria, et. al.), certain viruses (norovirus is a common one for adults; rotavirus is particularly common in children, but there are others as well), parasites, or even food sensitivities, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease. Do you notice which bug does not appear on this list? INFLUENZA.

So, what can we conclude from this? That getting your annual flu shot will absolutely not help you in your quest to not be laid up with vomiting and diarrhea. The best ways to avoid that are to practice good food safety habits (cooking things to temperature, not eating food that could have spoiled, not intermingling utensils you use on raw meat (including poultry and fish) and those you use on food you’ll be eating), drinking clean water, good hand washing habits, and hoping for a bit of luck. Getting the flu shot will not keep you from getting gastroenteritis any more than getting a measles shot will keep you from getting HPV.

Now, my faithful readers, you have been educated! Go forth and spread your knowledge!

Oh, and while I’m at it: I would also like to remind you that the only maladies you are likely to experience after being outside in the cold are frostbite and hypothermia. If you go outside with wet hair for 10 minutes and come down with a cough the next day, what you’re experiencing is a coincidence.

3. And now that I’ve screamed your eyes out and/or bored you to tears with my pathology ramblings, I hope everyone enjoys their Christmas and the remainder of the holiday season šŸ™‚

Have you ever been to ZooLights? Or something equivalent in your area, if you’re not from Chicago.

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5 thoughts on “Thursday Things

  1. I’ve been to Zoo Lights a couple times although I don’t think I’ll make it this year. Glad to hear they are mixing it up, since the main reason I wasn’t planning to go this year is because they’ve been pretty similar the past two years.

    • Yeah, I was actually on the fence about whether or not I wanted to go this year, too, for the same reason. I kind of felt like I *had* to go, since I think I’ve gone every year that I’ve lived here (I might’ve missed one year?), so I was pleasantly surprised to see how much changed!

  2. I think I’ve heard “stomach flu” so much that I have just come to think of all flu as “stomach flu”. But now that I read this and think about it..duh! I am pretty sure Matt had the flu last week as it was like on cold on steroids but so far I have been able to avoid it.
    I went to zoo lights once a few years ago but haven’t been back because it’s cold during the winter and I like to stay inside.

    • I hope you continued to avoid Matt’s flu – or whatever he had if it wasn’t the flu!

      Haha, I love your line about it being cold during the winter and wanting to stay inside – that was the exact same reason I gave for never going ice skating downtown (or anywhere else, for that matter) for like five years. Too busy during the holidays, too cold during the rest of winter. Definitely not the friendliest season for outdoor activities!

      • I do actually enjoy all the outside stuff when I am doing it and when I get cold I just go back inside but the problem is I lack the motivation to go outside in the first place. This should be a lesson for me to quit with my cold excuses.

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