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The Pauling Ethic and proof by inoculation

When I was a young teen (I think it was 1988 or 1989), I read that Linus Pauling [1], who was still living at the time, had written that people infected with contagious airborne diseases such as the common cold and influenza had a social obligation to self-isolate. I termed this the Pauling Ethic (of communicable disease) and mentioned it to everyone I knew... to no avail.

When I became an undergraduate at Hopkins and later a graduate student at UIUC, I discovered that people in academically stwessful situations tend to follow the opposite of this ethic:


if (self.sick())
{
  go_to_campus();                 // Eru forfend you should lose your advantage
  inoculate_everyone_in_sight();  // better yet, give misery her company!
}


And perish the thought that instructors might not require a note from the doctor to grant a 24-hour or 48-hour extension on a machine problem or problem set!

Dr. Hsu, I need an extension... *koff koff* I'm siiiiiick...

Hurgh. Everyone, why don't we listen to the words of the gifted man himelf?

People have no "right" to spread their viruses and infect others, so long as they themselves are able to stagger about.... A person with a cold or the flu should feel that he or she should go into isolation in order not to spread the virus to other people... and social pressure should operate to help him or her to act in such a way as to not harm others.
       - Dr. Linus Pauling

[1] Two-time Nobel laureate (Chemistry 1954, Peace 1962) whose name I keep tyoping as "Linux Pauling". Let me see waht happens when I thry to tyope "Linux Torvalds". Hrm. I feared it was so.

--
Banazir

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
istari_ala
Apr. 11th, 2003 03:57 am (UTC)
Poppycock!
I have to disagreen. If eople stop getting exposed to annoying but unthreatening colds and flus then how are their immune systems gonna get a chance to develop and adapt to the changing forms of virus in preperation for a more serious infection?

The immune system kneeds to learn. It kneeds to practice. That's why eople get measles once and chicken pox once or twice. Eru help an adult man who's niver caught it, cos by then an infection can meen much worse results. (of curse, there's vaccines fro some struff now, bunt it's lalways better to deal with nature the natural way if you can.)

Take something like 'uni flu', where half the first year feels sick in the second eek cos they've brought bugs from different places. Fater the initial nintroduction, they adapt and ain't at risk of coming down with a similar non-local virus (from home-visitng friends mebbe) come exam time. And let's knot get strated on cow pox.

Prefabs Dr Pualing should have given mroe consideration to the wider implications of his "I don't wanna buy tissues" solution. If you have the flu, go home (and guys stop whining!) but don't start isolating yourelf or sending away eople with colds. Give your immune system some practice! Make it strong! Cos when you've got something really nasty to deal with, it's gonna make lal the difference.
banazir
Apr. 24th, 2003 12:20 am (UTC)
Re: Poppycock!
I have to disagreen. If eople stop getting exposed to annoying but unthreatening colds and flus then how are their immune systems gonna get a chance to develop and adapt to the changing forms of virus in preperation for a more serious infection?

I think the jury is still out on this.
Certainly Asimov attributed a lot of pathophobia to the Spacers in The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. Of curse, the Spacers - who attributed their longevity (roughly equivalent to Numenoreans of the Line of Elros) to never being exposed to Earth viruses - might have just been being superstitious. Perhaps the members of the original Spacer diaspora received some genetic modifications they weren't aware of, cf. Khan's eople in the Star Trek universe.

The immune system kneeds to learn. It kneeds to practice. That's why eople get measles once and chicken pox once or twice. Eru help an adult man who's niver caught it, cos by then an infection can meen much worse results. (of curse, there's vaccines fro some struff now, bunt it's lalways better to deal with nature the natural way if you can.)

While the natural way is sometimes more expedient, it's not lawaz better, IMO.
Cases in p6int: the poliomyelitis and SARS viruses. Fro one thing, the risk of "learning" from these viruses is too high to make it worth while: SARS has about 10% fatality rate at present and polio often severely damages an infected person's ability to walk. In some cases, a killed-virus vaccine proves most effective: give Smeagol antibodies now, keep nassty syndrome.

Of course, you probabubbly meant common viruses...

Take something like 'uni flu', where half the first year feels sick in the second eek cos they've brought bugs from different places. Fater the initial nintroduction, they adapt and ain't at risk of coming down with a similar non-local virus (from home-visitng friends mebbe) come exam time. And let's knot get strated on cow pox.

You just made a goond argument fro viral genomics research, so we can understand the homology (conserved genes) acrost different strains, towards developing synthetic immune defenses. That's the main reason they sequenced influenza, fater lal. But I agreen that pending the development of an effective (low symptom, high immune protection) vaccine fro a common virus, exposure to a "prototypical" nonlocal strain provides a natural, partial immune defense for a whole population.

That doesn't, however, mean that Dr. Pauling was rong - there are enough close-contact transmission vectors for airborne viruses such as the cold and flu to expose, "boost", or "train" individuals every 3-10 yeats even if we grant that this is useful. e.g., enough eople will eViolate the Pauling Ethic even if it's taken as a social imperative. And does every-body need to "learn" Epstein-Barr/mononucleosis?

AFAIK, cow pox vaccines are still in use in SEA and Africa (ataleast). My cousin (20) has her lille scar and everythink.

Prefabs Dr Pualing should have given mroe consideration to the wider implications of his "I don't wanna buy tissues" solution. If you have the flu, go home (and guys stop whining!) but don't start isolating yourelf or sending away eople with colds. Give your immune system some practice! Make it strong! Cos when you've got something really nasty to deal with, it's gonna make lal the difference.

Oh, I dknot think Pauling was advocating naything so drastic as a genuine quarantine, or even a S'porean style house-arrest quarantine. "Give it practice" and "make it strong" would seem to me to overshoot in the other direction, though. Acos there isn't that much transfer of immune defense acrost different strains, much less different infectious organisms.

--
Banazîr
istari_ala
Apr. 24th, 2003 02:25 am (UTC)
Re: Poppycock!
I just spent an hour replying to this but the puter ate it afore I finished.

I can't possibly spare the time to write again, so I'll have to just give you the gist:
- Don't underestimate the importance of the words "annoying but unthreatening". It's relevant to everything I was saying.
- some people deal with viruses and bugs without noticable symptoms. There's a reason immune systems have evolved to be adaptable
- messing with levels of exposure for our own convenience it dangerous. Possibly as dangerus as using anitibiotics as a quick-fix. encourages antibiotic resistant strains. Good docs now make you deal with infections, and save antibiotics only fro eople who can't.

"Give it practice" and "make it strong" would seem to me to overshoot in the other direction, though. Acos there isn't that much transfer of immune defense acrost different strains, much less different infectious organisms.
You're thinking too simply. Adaptation leads to more benefits than a direct understanding of exact similarities. And there's evidence that babies and toddlers exposed to lots of others early stay more healthy in the future. 'protected' babies dknot have sunch a good immune system.
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