Déjà Vu Blogfest—Calling Out the Pro-Disease Cult

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DL Hammons is hosting another Déjà Vu blogfest, after taking a break last year. Click on the button to go to the list of participants. This post from January, “Diseases and Historical Fiction, Part I” is a bit on the long side, but the information desperately needs repeating. And if you’re one of those anti-science, tinfoil conspiracy theorists who giggles polio off as no big deal, wants your kids to get measles, talks about those of us with ASDs like we’re sub-human and not perfect just as we are, takes your kids to a chiroquacktor instead of a pediatrician, and cites mommy blogs, YouTube videos, and websites like YourDoctorIsAMurderer.Com to support your insanity, you can go screw yourself.

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Since I always mostly read older or historical books, and watched mostly classic or historical films, I’ve always been aware of how frightening the childhood diseases of the not-too-distant past were (and continue to be in Third World countries). Unlike the modern-day vaccine-denialist cult, I understand how contagious these diseases are, how they can kill, maim, and cause much suffering. They weren’t Magickally dying out anyway, coincidentally right at the exact same time the vaccine for each was introduced. Running water, better sanitation, and improved medicines only helped to improve survival rates in the 20th century, NOT incidence rates. Correlation does not freaking prove causation. We only see higher rates of diabetes, food allergies, autism, and ADHD now because of greater awareness, broadening diagnostic criteria, and no longer institutionalising such children or hiding them away at home in shame.

Real research does not entail looking at confirmation-bias, conspiracy theory, non-scholarly, one-sided, propagandistic articles from notoriously dangerous pseudoscience sites like whale.to, Mercola, Tenpenny, Sears, Natural “News,” your chiroquacktor’s webpage, or VINE. Real research is not about working backwards from a set in stone belief and ignoring or mocking everything that doesn’t back up your rigid POV. Real research includes peer-reviewed, unbiased scholarly journals, not random blogs and YouTube videos. You do not know more than the entire scientific community because you spent some time Googling.

Vaccines do not freaking cause autism, but even if they somehow did and Andy Fakefield hadn’t been exposed as an unethical liar and stripped off the UK Medical Register, an autistic child is much better than one who died of measles, diphtheria, polio, pertussis, mumps, chickenpox, or tetanus. How dare you claim there are no autistic adults and call your own children cursed, damaged, soulless, defective, not real people!

Autism spectrum disorders are simply a neurobiological difference, not a deviation from the perfect “norm” you were expecting. Autism has always existed, only had different names in the past, and was more hidden from the public view, like mental illness and Down’s Syndrome. Today we have better diagnostic criteria, can identify the signs earlier, and include a range of conditions on a spectrum. Same goes for food allergies, diabetes, ADHD, asthma, whatever else these zealots falsely blame on vaccines.

Parents in the old days lined up around the block for diphtheria toxin-antitoxin, polio vaccines, whooping cough vaccines, measles vaccines, etc. They knew firsthand how awful the diseases are, and wanted so badly to save their children from needlessly suffering and/or dying. They trusted medical authorities and didn’t smirk about how they knew more than experienced toxicologists, immunologists, bacteriologists, virologists, specialists in infectious diseases, pediatricians, biologists, and medical doctors. They had seen children suffering and dying.

Parents 50, 100, 300, 500 years ago didn’t excitedly throw diphtheria parties, giggle about how awesome it is to have “natural immunity,” ignore everything doctors told them in favour of homeopathic woo and dangerous quackery like chelation and bleach enemas, declare how happy they were to have deliberately gotten their kids sick with whooping cough, dismiss measles as a minor rash that never kills, shrug off polio as not dangerous and no big deal, or put more stock in extremely rare vaccine reactions than the truly real risk of dying from a disease.

Diseases which were all but eradicated in the West, like measles, mumps, and whooping cough, have been making frightening comebacks due to the breakdown in herd immunity and large pockets of unvaccinated people. Vaccines do not “shed.” The people spreading these diseases are unvaccinated. They infect people too young to be vaccinated, or unable to be vaccinated due to legitimate medical issues. Vaccinated children are healthier than unvaccinated children.

No child “deserves” to die because s/he was premature, formula-fed, suffering a medical condition, or not the child of crunchier than thou hippies living in a yurt, “unschooling” their kids, eating only raw organic food, and relying on homeopathic garbage like coffee enemas, colloidal silver, and baking soda. You are morally bankrupt if you defend child murderers by blaming Shaken Baby Syndrome on vaccines.

There’s never been a single doubt in my mind that vaccines have saved untold lives all around the world since their introduction, that they’re extremely safe and effective. I never believed Andy Fraudfield’s study for one blessèd moment, since I always knew autism is something one is born with. Again, correlation does not prove causationPeople with Autism Spectrum Disorders are not damaged, cursed, soulless, or less than real people. I dare these people to tell me to my face that I, someone on the highest-functioning, mildest end of the spectrum and undiagnosed for 29 years due to my specific condition essentially not having a name when I was growing up, am damaged, diseased, in need of a “cure,” not equal to someone with a neurotypical brain.

If my regular readers couldn’t already guess from context clues in previous posts discussing my unexplained issues in elementary school, I have Asperger’s. Very mild now, after so many years of knowing how to pass for “normal,” but my brain is still wired differently. You can get bent if you think I’m damaged, need a “cure,” or should’ve been institutionalised like at least one kiddy shrink recommended to my parents in the mid-Eighties. One of the hardest things in my life was growing up with an ASD before it had a name, deprived of the resources and understanding I would’ve had if I’d been born 15-20 years later.

What’s Up Wednesday

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It’s been awhile since I did a WUW post, since I was busy with the April A to Z Challenge.

What I’m Reading

After watching the most chilling scenes from War and Remembrance on YouTube, I was inspired to go back to Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War, the book which precedes War and Remembrance. Luckily, I found both of them in one of my unpacked book crates still waiting for another bookshelf. I got The Winds of War for only a buck at Mystery Train Records in Amherst, but didn’t get that far into it when I’d started reading it before. I’m pretty sure I began it around the time of my accident, and so had more important priorities afterwards, besides not even being able to go upstairs for a few months.

This is the kind of historical I’m used to reading, the kind which inspired my own writing. For me, a real historical spans many years, has an ensemble cast, has a wide, sweeping arc and trajectory, and is nice and meaty. I can only imagine the horrified remarks Mr. Wouk (may he live and be well) would get were he starting to write today. “I cringed at your word count!” “Watch that word count!” “There’s no one main character!” “Too much telling!” “Too much backstory in the opening chapters!”

What I’m Writing

I finally bit the bullet and rewrote the opening pages of Little Ragdoll, along with changing the chapter title. It reads so much better now, without all that explanatory backstory clogging up and slowing down the story. I also rewrote or reworked a number of other pieces of the chapter, and now the dialogue sounds so much more natural and realistic. I also moved something that had been dialogue from Chapter 5 into a narrative passage in Chapter 1.

I had enough of going through Little Ragdoll, since barely anything was left to edit or change, so I went back to my WIP for a little while. Now up to somewhat over 603,000 words, and Chapter 78. I changed the name from “Journey to England” to “The Strangling Angel and the White Plague.” It’s shaped up to be more about Darya, Oliivia, and their new friends Halina and Maja than my soldiers going to England in preparation for D-Day next year.

I was nice to the girls and took them out of Oswiecim to a Polish farm taken over by the SS but still managed by a Polish family. Maja, sick with diphtheria (which ran rampant in 1943 Europe), and Darya, sick with TB, are taken to safety inside, and Oliivia and Halina will be chosen as indoor servants. Darya’s going to realise she’s not conceiving after her marriage in Part IV, due to something that happened in the camps, and I finally hit upon TB spreading to the pelvic organs and leaving scar tissue. It’s a big cause of female infertility in the developing world.

Then I went back to a final polishing of Jakob’s story, which is set to release Friday. The majority of my edits were in reflecting the fact that Dutch women are historically Lucy Stoners (i.e., retain their birth surnames after marriage). No more references to a couple as “the Names,” or referring to Luisa and Gusta with their husbands’ names. A woman changing her surname upon marriage is largely a convention of the English-speaking world, and fairly recent at that.

What Inspires Me

In April, I was extremely proud to help with getting Chili’s to drop its planned fundraiser with the vaccine-denialist, pro-Andrew Wakefield group National Autism Association. The pro-science crowd really rallied together and sent a loud and clear, well-argued position. I also recently took part in a Twitter chat with the hashtag #CDCvax, and was again very pleased and proud to see so many pro-science voices and great rebuttals of all the vaccine-denialist, autism-hating nonsense. The sun is hopefully setting on the vaccine-denialist, autism-hating cult.

These people have brought back measles, mumps, whooping cough, and now even diphtheria, aka The Strangling Angel. They bully and name-call, and make themselves look completely out of touch with reality. They ask the same stock questions over and over, ignoring the answers because they contradict their POV. They use such hateful language to talk about their own children. They invalidate the existence, experience, and feelings of adults with ASDs. They think deadly diseases are no big deal. They have zero understanding of basic science and history.

And for the record, I view Asperger’s as a beautiful gift and blessing from God. I really believe I have that to thank for my writing talent from such a young age, my prolific memory, my incredible intelligence, and my interest in things like silent film, classic rock and pop, world languages and religions, all things Russian, and history. My brain was wired this way before birth, and it’s not damage, a defect, or a curse.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

My paternal grandma passed away on 24 April, at age 86. Now I only have one set of grandparents left. It’s kind of hard to get used to the fact that you’re running out of grandparents, and that someone you were always close to isn’t in the material world anymore. I wish she could’ve lived to see me finally become a published writer. As time goes on, I have to seriously consider the fact that any children I might manage to have could have no living great-grandparents. I was lucky enough to share my lifetime with five, though I only really have memories of two, my mother’s father’s parents.

Diseases and Historical Fiction, Part VI

(This is the final currently-planned installment of a series on common diseases and health conditions which were common in the era before vaccines, antibiotics, penicillin, and modern medicine. It’s important to be familiar with them, to give extra authenticity and flavour to your historical novels.)

Tuberculosis (TB, consumption, scrofula, the White Plague, phthisis, Pott’s disease), a bacterial infection in the lungs, which used to be a very common cause of hospitalisation and death. It can be diagnosed by a chest X-ray (often done without protective lead vests in the old days), skin tests, and blood tests. Symptoms include a cough, fever, night sweats, weight loss, and blood in one’s spit. While today many people contract TB due to HIV or AIDS, historically it was often caused by overcrowding and malnutrition, hence its prevalence in slums, tenements, and the poor side of town.

It’s been with us since antiquity, but only became epidemic in Europe around the 17th century, when it was known as the Great White Plague. In the 19th century, it was actually considered a romantic, spiritual disease. Though a vaccine was introduced in humans in 1921 and gained popularity after WWII, antibiotics are the most common treatment now.

Syphilis, which probably needs no introduction. The first written records documenting it are from 1494-95 in Napoli (Naples), when it was called the French disease due to being spread by French soldiers during an invasion. The STD then swept across Europe, and was carried to the Americas by the Spanish. Each country called it by the name of its enemies or the people believed to have started it; e.g., the Dutch called it the Spanish disease, the French called it the Italian disease, the Russians called it the Polish disease, and the Tahitians called it the British disease.

It was also called great pox during the 16th century, to distinguish it from smallpox. Syphilitics were as ostracised as lepers, due to how their bodies were disfigured, in addition to the public knowledge that they’d gotten it from sex. A number of treatments were tried and developed over the centuries, until finally penicillin and antibiotics were introduced.

Streptococcus (strep), a bacterial infection that’s perhaps best-known for causing strep throat and Group B strep. I had strep throat many times in lower elementary school, and hated the throat cultures and medicine I had to drink. Until a few decades ago, many children had their tonsils taken out to avoid or treat it. Nowadays we have antibiotics and penicillin.

Group B strep is most common in pregnant women and their neonates. If antibiotics aren’t taken during birth, the neonate may be born with GBS, or have it develop after the first week. Early-onset GBS is a major cause of bacterial septicemia and may cause pneumonia, while late-onset GBS may cause meningitis.

Diabetes, one of the first diseases described, known since Ancient Egypt and India. It was commonly recognised by the sufferer’s sweet, sugary urine. In spite of how global and well-known this ailment is, effective treatments weren’t developed until artificial insulin came along in 1921. By then, people had gradually come to understand that the pancreas of a diabetic is insulin-deficient. And yes, diabetes is something you’re born with, or develop later in life due to obesity, pregnancy, poor health, aging, poor diet, and stress. Diabetes is not caused by vaccines. Anyone who believes it is does not understand basic scientific principles. 

Our understanding of diabetes has improved considerably since the first insulin treatments. I’m showing my age, but Stacey of The Babysitters’ Club wouldn’t have been written as a brittle diabetic were the books published today. She wasn’t allowed any sugar, and would practically go into a coma if she had even a little taste of sugar. I hate the trend of “updating” older youth literature, which the earliest BSC books fell victim to. They were written in the Eighties and Nineties. Having Stacey’s diabetes be depicted as if she’s a young person of the 21st century isn’t historically accurate.

Diseases and historical fiction, Part V

(This is the fifth currently-planned installment of a series on diseases and other maladies which would be well-known to the characters in a historical. While it’s impracticable to include each and every disease and health condition in a book, one should at least have basic familiarity with them.)

Rhesus disease, a frequent cause of neonatal death and miscarriage till the Rhogam shot was approved for use in 1968. This disease strikes women with an Rh negative blood type if they’re carrying an Rh positive fetus. Of course, the crunchier than thou natural childbirth zealots who deny ALL interventions no matter what think it’s cool to skip Rhogam. This is extremely dangerous when you know your blood type is incompatible with that of your baby-to-be. Babies used to die because their mothers had no way of preventing this, and many mothers buried all or most of their babies, with no idea of why they kept losing children. (Perhaps this could’ve been why Aunt Sissy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn loses ten of her children at birth?) The shots are given during pregnancy, one at 28 weeks and a booster at 34 weeks.

Rabies, a well-known disease among animals and often transmitted to humans. It’s been known since at least 2000 BCE. Rabies was always fatal, until the first vaccine came along in 1885. A more modern vaccine was introduced in 1967. Absolutely horrifying that there are now a number of “holistic vets” who advocate (sometimes in their own magazines) not vaccinating against rabies, only giving half-dose vaccines, skipping some vital animal shots, or delaying the rabies vaccine.

Typhoid fever, a diarrheal disease known since at least 430-424 BCE, when a devastating plague killed one-third of the Athenian populace. It continued to wreak havoc throughout history, particularly in the military, until a vaccine was introduced in 1896. It was first used during the Boer War. The entire U.S. Army was vaccinated in 1909, and typhoid was history as a major source of mortality and morbidity. The chlorination of drinking water in the U.S. in 1908 also was a significant factor, as were the introduction of antibiotics in 1942.

Typhus, a horrible disease including fever, chills, delirium, joint pain, muscle pain, and vomiting. It was first described during the siege of Granada, Spain, in 1489. Throughout history, it’s sprung up in prisons, due to famines, in the military, in concentration-camps, and in the steerage quarters of ships. Though a vaccine was first developed in the interwar period, a much-improved version came about during WWII.

Dysentery, a diarrheal disease known throughout history. Like typhus, it often arose in overcrowded, dirty conditions. No vaccine exists, but today it can be treated through oral rehydration therapy.

Yellow fever, a mosquito-transmitted disease most likely originating in Africa and brought to the Americas by slave ships. The first Western outbreak was probably in Yucatán, México, in 1648, and proceeding into North America. There were many epidemics throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The last major U.S. outbreak was in New Orleans in 1905. A vaccine was developed in 1937, and first used commercially in the Fifties.

Malaria, another mosquito-borne disease predating humanity and also probably arising in Africa. It often afflicted those who were around swampy areas. In the 19th century, it was primarily treated with quinine, after centuries of herbal remedies and death. It came to the Americas in the 16th century. There is no vaccine, though we do have antimalarial drugs, of varying efficacy, and the preventative deterrents of draining swamps and spraying insecticides.

Diseases and historical fiction, Part IV

(This is part of a series on formerly common diseases, infections, and other health maladies which can help to add to the overall authenticity of a historical. It would be impracticable to include every one, but it’s good to at least be familiar with them.)

Pleurisy (pleuritis), an infection which starts in the lining of the lungs and spreads to the chest cavity. It’s most commonly triggered by a viral infection. In the pre-antibiotic era, it was much more deadly, and often progressed quicker than doctors could ameliorate it. Pleurisy is what killed Rudy Valentino.

Meningitis, which I stupidly signed at least two waivers against due to falling victim to fear-mongering misinformation about side effects. At least I was a legal adult and had the right to make such a stupid decision on my own behalf. And at least I’m science-minded enough to have changed my stance after realising I was fear-mongered to. This is an extremely frightening inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, and can cause a stiff neck, headache, fever, paralysis, amputation of extremities or entire limbs, deafness, blindness, rash, gangrene, all sorts of scary stuff. A vaccine was invented in the Eighties, and I’ve been on a mission to get myself immunised for quite some time now.

Haemophilus influenzae Type B (HiB), a bacterium which commonly attacked and maimed mostly babies and children prior to a vaccine being widely adopted in 1990. It can cause epiglottitis (a serious inflammation of the epiglottis), pneumonia, lower respiratory tract infections, meningitis, and bacteremia. I was born before the vaccine existed, and luckily avoided contracting this dreaded bacterium.

Rotavirus, an extremely common cause of deadly diarrhea in babies and young children. It was named in 1974. A vaccine was introduced in 1998. Improved sanitation does nothing to prevent or curtail rotavirus. It’s still a common cause of death among children in the developing world. The first version of the vaccine was withdrawn in 1999 when it was shown it led to bowel obstruction, and two new, much-improved vaccines came out in 2006. One of the inventors of the modern rotavirus vaccine is the awesome Dr. Paul Offit, one of the vaccine-denialist cult’s most popular whipping boys. These people are so obsessed with denying vaccines to children that they make death threats. How dare he protect children from unnecessary suffering and death! He should smile and go along with your conspiracy theory lunacy about vaccines causing mind control and approve dangerous quackery like chelation, bleach enemas, and onion juice!

Cholera, an infection of the small intestine which was very common until antibiotics were invented. There are also cholera vaccines, the first of which appeared in the late 19th century. Cholera is believed to have arisen in India in antiquity, as a result of drinking bad water and living in squalid, cramped housing. The first cholera pandemic was in India’s Bengal region, from 1817-24, and gradually spread to the Middle East, southern Russia, China, Japan, Southeast Asia. Further pandemics continued through the 19th century, as the disease swept into mainland Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

Hepatitis A, a liver infection which causes fever, nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, jaundice, clay-coloured stool, and dark bile. A vaccine was introduced in the U.S. in 1996, and spread to the rest of the world in 1999. Many people in the developing world are still felled by this infection.

Hepatitis B, another liver infection. The first vaccine came out in 1981, but was withdrawn in 1986 and replaced by a superior one in 1991. The vaccine is typically given in three spaced installments, though since I left New York in 1996, I never got around to having my third and final shot, and was later told I shouldn’t start all over or belatedly get the final jab. You don’t know if you’ll come into contact with someone with Hepatitis B. Don’t smugly insist you know you’ll never get it because you don’t do drugs, don’t have STDs, and have a partner who’s completely faithful to you. I’m embarrassed I once believed the natural childbirth zealots who insist there’s no need for a newborn to get this shot. People like that give natural childbirth advocates a bad name and make us seem like we’re all anti-science hippies.