Life, Like Football, Requires Great Defense

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In April 2009, I remember hearing the first reports of a potentially virulent strain of influenza called “Swine Flu.” While the outbreak started in rural Mexico, a few isolated cases had already shown up in California and Texas.

By the end of the following month, Swine Flu, also known as H1N1, had swept through all 50 states and the virus’ first fatalities were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

As that summer unfolded, and the number of infections grew, I couldn’t help but think about Richard Preston’s 1994 book The Hot Zone and the Dustin Hoffman film Outbreak. I also couldn’t help but feel a little panicked.

Over the course of that summer, my wife or I would call our pediatrician’s office weekly to see whether they had received H1N1 vaccine for our kids. By August, only our youngest, who was 18 months at the time, could get the vaccine. Our two older children had to wait. Supplies for their age group, which required a different potency, were in short supply.

Summer turned into fall and news about H1N1, which by then had been deemed a global pandemic, was unrelenting; still no vaccine available at the pediatrician’s office. More panic.

Then, a friend mentioned hearing about a clinic in Detroit that had the vaccine available — no appointment required. Around the same time, the Oakland County Health Department was preparing to hold a mass vaccination drive at the Pontiac Silverdome. Neither choice seemed ideal.

In the end, we opted for the clinic. (Images of a hurricane-ravaged New Orleans Superdome have perhaps scarred me for life.)

The Thea Bowman Community Health Center on Fenkell and Evergreen was no Henry Ford Hospital or luxe Detroit Medical Center facility, which Detroit Receiving Hospital would qualify as given the comparison.

In addition to being the only suburbanites at the Bowman Health Center that morning, we were the only people there for vaccine despite its packed waiting room. Twenty minutes, some plastic bandages and two lollipops later, we were back in the car on our way to school.

This month’s Red Thread Q & A (on page 16 in print) is with Dr. Nathan Wolfe, one of the world’s leading virologists — who also happens to be a local boy from West Bloomfield. He will be back in Detroit the beginning of November speaking about his new book The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age at the Jewish Book Fair (7:45 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield).

As a global virus hunter, Wolfe is but one of a few brave souls daring enough to repeatedly go into “the hot zone.” His attempt to track new and emergent pathogens is one of the few safeguards that exists between us — humanity — and the next outbreak of H1N1, SARS or worse.

Another bulwark is vigilance in vaccinating our children against already preventable diseases. Yet, according to a recent study by University of Michigan researchers on parents and their children’s vaccination schedules, findings on this front provide less encouragement than one would expect.

The report, published in the October 2011 edition of Pediatrics, was eye-opening due to the number of respondents who acknowledged deviating from standard prescribed vaccination allotments and intervals.

Results showed more than one in 10 parents use an “alternative” vaccination schedule for their young children, including refusing vaccines altogether.
Based on these findings, researchers expressed concern that more parents may be refusing vaccines in the future, raising the risk that diseases like measles and whooping cough will spread in schools and communities.

Parents who skip or delay vaccines typically cited safety concerns, among which included the now-debunked idea of a link between vaccines and autism.
In our brief conversation, Wolfe made it clear that the best safeguard against another deadly pandemic is vigilance, which includes vaccination against already conquered diseases like measles.

An estimated 21 million deaths worldwide were caused by the H1N1 pandemic of 1918. A pandemic today, where a century’s worth of transportation innovation makes our world a much smaller place, will spread even faster and likely be as devastating.

Happy First Birthday to Us

November 2010  just seems like yesterday, doesn’t it? (They grow up so fast!) In the year since we first launched, Red Thread has gone through some growing pains, but is a stronger publication for it.

We are ever evolving — always innovating to become a richer and more relevant read. For example, we are proud of the recently added Opinion section. Providing a forum for disparate points of view is one of this magazine’s goals.

With that, we offer our apologies that the promised editorial by Rabbi Simcha Tolwin does not appear. Rabbi Tolwin chose to demur from publishing a response to last month’s essay by Joshua Einstein, as previously planned. The rabbi expressed his regret and extends his apologies. We look forward to his participation at a later date.

We hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving!

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