Monday, November 14, 2016

Health & Wellness week

I knew it was not a good idea to have a toffee nut latte after dinner and this is the consequence - a wee hour post.

The good thing about smaller organisations is that corporate initiatives can be done in a more intimate setting. We had our Health & Wellness week a couple of weeks back. I for one, was quite excited to see how the plans would pan out after hearing the first mention of this in management meetings and then seeing the proposal papers come through. The objective was for us as an organisation to walk the talk as well as to reduce our medical claims.

To be honest, I think the response rate was not that great. But I tried to participate in as many activities as I could (or more like, as my shyness would permit). It was cute to see the senior management all dancing zumba at the launching ceremony, most above their 60s and some in their work attire! (shame on me, I was only a bystander) I've got this perfect timing of arriving to work late and bumping into the bosses, and that was what happened that morning while taking the stairs up. I'd to promise the DVC & CFO I'd be there to support! It was a little comforting to find that most of the finance team were bystanders as well.

Another activity was participating in two online health assessments and submitting the results to HR for a free movie ticket. I did both assessments and one said my body health was 28 and the other 32 - hmm, not too far from the truth I guess. We also had free health screening which was done by the students. My colleague had to be pricked 3 times to get enough blood! This scared me quite a bit, but when I went for it, they got enough blood from one prick although my finger tip was freezing from my nervousness and my oxyhaemoglobins just kept happily seeping out. It was a relief to see that there wasn't much changes from last year's screening results. Yay, green light to continue my cream cheese and salted egg diet! No, but seriously, thank God!

There was a series of lunch talks and I wanted to join the one on Adult Vaccination. Yes, immunology has always been an interesting topic. I asked around who'd like to go with me, but only one colleague agreed to it. When we got to the lecture theatre, there were less than 10 people (including us and speaker)! I was surprised, but it wasn't too awkward since we were familiar with the bosses, one of which was the speaker too. Key takeaways from the session were:-

  1. Influenza vaccination - should be taken yearly due to the high rate of mutation of flu virus, recommended especially for those above 65 years
  2. Pneumococcal vaccination - should be taken once in a lifetime, also highly recommended for those above 65. When our immune system is down, many die from complications due to pneumonia and meningitis (bacterial attack on the meninges membrane which covers our brain)
  3. Shingles vaccination - shingles is caused by the same virus (varicella zoster) that causes chickenpox which lies dormant in our nerves and emerges mainly when the immune system is compromised. The rashes creep around the abdomen and feels like being stabbed with a knife (viral attack of the nerves). 
  4. Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) - 3-in-1 vaccine that should be taken once in a lifetime (this vaccine wasn't around when my generation were kids, so we should get it). (1) Tetanus - All this while I thought tetanus could only be contracted via rusty nails but it's actually through open wounds contact with soil, gardening etc (in my defense, I only took Basic Immuno in my alma mater). Immunisation towards tetanus needs a booster every 10 years. (2) Diphtheria - this bacterial infection causes a thick coating to form in the throat and nose. Many local doctors have not seen actual cases in Malaysia until lately, with the emergence of anti-vaccination movement among new parents. (3) Pertussis - bacterial infection which causes whooping cough or 100 day cough.
  5. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) - causes viral warts, 70% cervical cancer, 25% laryngeal cancer. Mostly transmitted through sexual relations, so vaccination is most effective before a female is sexually active (i.e. vaccination should be done before infection (if any) occurs). Males pass on the HPV to females, but how the males contract the virus is unclear. It was also discussed that males should be vaccinated as well.
  6. Hepatitis A - vaccination should be done before travelling to certain countries. 
Basically, from what I remember of my Immuno class years ago, vaccines contain "deactivated" viruses or bacteria (a.k.a pathogen) which will trigger our immune system to respond to these pathogens and in the process create memory cells, which will be able to activate the right immune response (fast, because time is of essence in defense system) if in the future our bodies were to be invaded by the virulent strain of these pathogens. If I am not mistaken, there are various types of vaccines and some don't even contain the deactivated pathogen in whole, but just the antigen or protein markers which are identifiable by our immune system (lymphocytes). (Gosh, I can still picture hazily the diagrams in my text book! something about T-cells etc.)

Much of the anti-vax movement is based on a 'scientific' journal paper published by Andrew Wakefield in the Lancet in 1998 linking the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) to autism in children. It was later alleged that Wakefield had a conflict of interest, which was not declared then, and the research results had been falsified. The paper was fully retracted some years later and Wakefield was struck off the medical practitioners register, barred from medical practice in the UK. I remember years back, I'd actually downloaded the original journal paper and also saw the retraction notice by the journal - this digging was thanks to an ex-classmate who pointed me to the info source. And yes, I WAS that naive one who heard about anti-vax and believed it without further research then. But it is a real issue, and the recent re-emergence of diphtheria announced by MOH is worrying. In a risk conference I attended recently, a speaker from MOH said most local doctors hadn't encountered actual diphtheria cases till recently and so they were inexperienced in the practical handling of such cases.

We always think that immunisation is a personal choice but in actual fact, it affects the community at large. If you decide not to vaccinate your child, your child becomes a threat to the other children in his/her class and school.

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