Saturday, January 15, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Common Cold

Yesterday, my 6 year old son was affected by mild fever and vomiting. Seemed like a minor case of Gastroenteritis and after a day of rest, he's already feeling a lot better. On Monday, he won't even remember being sick.

What astounded me was people's reaction around us. Upon hearing (or reading on Facebook) that my kid was sick, some friends wouldn't shake my hand or come to our house. Another family came over to pick a package, but they wouldn't stop by for a coffee for fear of getting sick. A friend that was here for supper yesterday was told by her sister that she couldn't visit her family this weekend because they didn't want their daughter to get ill.

What's the hysteria all about?

We are surrounded by bacterias, viruses and fungii and some of them can make us sick. That's why we have an immune system. And like a muscle, the immune system gets stronger with use.

It's ok to fear really dangerous diseases (Ebola, Black Plague, AIDS, etc.) but a common cold or flu. C'mon...

I never ran away from someone with a cold, or refused to shake someone's hand because they had the flu. Did I end up getting a runny nose a few times as a result? Sometimes. Did I ever become seriously sick because of it? Never.

Granted, I was born in Africa in the '70s and my exposure to viruses and bacteria might have been substantially higher than that of the average American or European kid. But I believe it is my lifelong exposure to cold, flu and other minor diseases along with healthy eating habits and a decent fitness level that keep me in good shape.

In the last 15 years, I was seriously sick (bedridden) and missed a day of work only once. And that was after getting a vaccine.

Once again, I think we fear the wrong things. Looking at my previous posts What Are You Afraid Of ? and When Playing Safe becomes Dangerous, it is becoming a recurring theme.

All these people scared of the common cold or flu are carelessly exposing themselves to much greater threats:

SMOKING: Such a good way to get cancer and die prematurely. How insane do you need to be to still smoke in the 21st century?

STRESS and NOT ENOUGH SLEEP: Not only will it cause you health problems, it is a sure way to decrease your immune system's strength.

SITTING IN FRONT OF A COMPUTER ALL DAY and NOT ENOUGH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Our unhealthy lifestyles produce back problems, obesity, poor posture and depressed immune systems.

MEDICATION: We have reached a point where the over the counter drugs are stronger than anything you can find on the streets. Do you think all this medication is tested for long term effects (5, 10, 20 years)? Of course not. Do you think that pharmaceutical companies test the combined effects of different medication? That would be too costly. You can be sure of one thing however. Every time you get a benefit form a chemical, there is a price to be paid. Whether you see it immediately or not.

CONTAMINATED WATER: The filtration plants used by the vast majority of cities in the US and Canada can clean polluted water to make it drinkable and prevent dangerous infections. However, there's a lot of things they cannot remove from the water: heavy metals, chemical products and medication. Yes, you read well. Medication. What do you think happens with the cocktail of pills aging baby boomers are ingesting? It goes out of their system into their urine, and then from their toilet bowl to your glass of water. In some waterways around cities, some fish species are experiencing sex change due to the hormone overdose caused by all these women taking contraceptive pills and rejecting the excess hormones through their urine.

Industrial food production is ugly and the products we are offered at the supermarket more often than not aren't exactly health friendly. As a result, as I explained in a previous post there are far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat.

If your health is important for you, go and read Eric Schlosser's great book Fast Food Nation and Joel Salatin's Everything I want to do is illegal.

I also strongly recommend the excellent documentary Food inc.


The next time one of your friend has a cold, instead of running away, hug him or her. It'll be better for both of you.

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