Sunday, 9 August 2009

Jenner-ation Ex

I had a client in a few months ago who told me that she didn't need her papillon vaccinated. Why? Because she used homeopathic vaccines, that's why.

I took a deep breath. Now, I don't want to get particularly preachy with this blog - there's little more annoying in this world than being told what to do by someone who thinks they know better than you. But tough, I'm going to do it anyway.

Let's leave the whole subject of homeopathy for another blog, shall we? But homeopathic vaccinations? Really? The whole idea of a vaccination is to introduce something into the body that stimulates the immune system, and provokes a reaction that is protective against future infections. Now imagine giving a product which, if it were scaled up to a globe the size of the solar system, would contain one molecule of the active substance. (Which is equivalent to a 200c dilution, the standard I believe for homeopathic prophylaxis). Maybe it's just me, but I think my immune system might find that one a little tricky to find. In fact, if I had an immune system that tough, we could have simply sent my white blood cells into Afghanistan and saved the country a lot of money, lives, and ethical misery.

(In their defence, I believe that most homeopaths posit the theory that homeopathic vaccination works on a 'deeper' level than that of stimulating antibody production. If they ever feel like sharing this deeper understanding of the immune system with conventional medics, I'm sure we'd all be a lot happier and healthier. Whenever you're ready, guys!)

I'm sure you're all familiar with the story of vaccination. It is one of the greatest success stories of modern medicine. Edward Jenner was born into a world where 1 in 5 people who died, died of smallpox. He noted - it was probably common knowledge amongst agricultural families -that people who had been infected with cowpox tended not to get smallpox. Presumably being a silver-tongued devil, he somehow managed to convince a young boy - James Phipps - that it would be a good idea if he let Jenner scrape some pus from a milkmaid infected with cowpox, and inject it under Phipp's skin. (Accomplished with scratching his arms open with bits of wood).

Phipp's possibly received a lollipop for his troubles. He also received immunity to smallpox, probably a better present. 250 years later, smallpox is all but extinct (not counting the many samples held by various Evil Genius's in their Evil, Evil Lairs - but I'm sure James Bond will get round to them eventually).

Vaccines save lives. Remember the great MMR hoax a few years ago? Not much talked about now, is it? Somehow (nothing at all to do with Britain's wonderful newspaper journalists, I'm sure) we were convinced on the basis of no evidence whatsoever that the MMR jab could cause autism. Now let me be clear about this - people have died because of this hoax.

On the dog and cat front - I personally have never seen a single case of distemper, and for that I am grateful, because it sounds bloody horrible.

(This may not be very appropriate but it reminds me of a joke. One of the symptoms of distemper is that dogs get very thickened, hard pads. Vets used to treat this by applying lubricant to all the paws, but after that patients tended to go downhill very quickly. Aheh. Sorry.)

I have, however, sadly seen cases of leptospirosis, hepatitis, parvovirus, feline leukaemia, and many, many cases of cat flu. None of which I ever want to see again, thank you very much. For those who feel that as vets we over-vaccinate, bear in mind that the only disease your dog will be vaccinated against annually is leptospirosis - the rest are pretty much on a biannual or more usually triannual rotation. Leptospirosis immunity often only lasts for twelve months.

Are vaccines perfect? No. They don't always work. Cat flu vaccination in particular is often only partially effective - much like the human influenza vaccine. Very very rarely, you will get a vaccine reaction. If you think about it this is not unnatural considering what you are trying to do is stimulate the immune system.

In my career I have seen two fibrosarcomas develop on the back of cat's necks, one of which ended in the untimely euthanasia of that patient. These sarcomas were almost certainly due to vaccination against feline leukaemia virus. Has that shaken my faith in vaccinations? Not at all. Why? Because I have also seen more cases of feline leukaemia virus itself than I can sensibly count (but is definitely in excess of 100) - every single one of which ended in the premature euthanasia of the unfortunate animal concerned.

Right, preachy mode over. Does my story at the beginning have a coda? Yes, it does. I persuaded the said owner of the papillion to vaccinate her treasured pet, using similar arguments to above.

The papillion had a vaccine reaction. Thank you, sod's law. The back of the dog's neck swelled up, and was bruised for a few days. He needed three days worth of painkillers. The owner of the dog now refuses to see me, believing (I'm not quite sure why) that I injected her dog directly into it's spinal column. She probably thinks that I torture kittens for fun, too. (In reality, I only torture them as part of my day job, of course).

Hence this blog post, which has two morals. Firstly, you can't win 'em all. Secondly, vaccinate yourself, and vaccinate your animals!

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