Thursday, April 12, 2007

Apparently I'm Stronger Today

I’ve been sick with the flu. Yesterday morning I came to work around 9AM despite feeling ill. Within two hours I fled to go home, feeling horribly nauseous and fatigued, and sporting a low fever. As soon as I got home I went to bed and slept for six hours. I woke up at 5:30PM only because I had to pick up the kids from daycare and watch them. Once they went to sleep around 9PM, I promptly fell back in bed and slept until 7AM the next morning. In all I was awake only about five or six hours yesterday, and I didn’t eat anything at all. Today I’m not nauseous, and I went to work, but I’m not “all there.” We’ll see if I work the entire day. The last couple years have been the worst for diseases for me and my wife, probably because we have two walking incubators called children.

Well, as Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill you only makes you stronger.”

It is in line with this sentiment that a new book has been authored by Marlene Zuk, entitled Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites that Make Us Who We Are (Harcourt, 2007). Zuk is an evolutionary biologist better known for her investigations into the evolutionary development of sex.

Zuk argues that the battle against disease has defined the evolution of our species in many ways. She even argues that fighting disease is part of what led to the development of sexual reproduction in our species, in that cloning would not diversify our genetic code enough to develop resistance. Zuk is also very concerned about the extent to which we have over-exposed ourselves to antibiotics in soaps, cleaners, and other materials, and over-prescribed antibiotic pharmaceuticals. The end result is that we do not develop immunity, causing a decreased resistance and increasing rates of asthma and allergies. Hospitals are becoming problematic for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is nothing new, but there is a growing movement away from the use of antibiotics for this reason.

When I went to college, I knew a guy who readily ate food out of trash cans. No kidding, he would dig through the trash and eat pizza slices from boxes that had been thrown in the trash the day before, for instance. He said he had always done that, and never got sick. He thought the rest of us were prudes for letting good food go to waste in the trash. I’ve often wondered how he has fared since then. Has he died from some horrible disease from contaminated food, or is he one of the healthiest guys on earth? I think I’d believe either possibility.

Apparently Zuk says disease can be a “vital partner and friend.” I’m not sure I’d go that far. That which tries to kill or maim you isn’t a friend, in my opinion, but we can evolve a tolerance. A better question is, “Are there viruses out there which do not cause sickness, but in some manner better humanity?” I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I’d be interested to know, and wouldn’t be surprised.

Update (4/13/07): I had to rush home yesterday because my lovely wife had caught this bug and was throwing up. She's better today, as am I. It's hard to think of diseases as our "friends" when you're perched over the porcelain god barfing your brains out.

1 comment:

Overpriced Designer Man Bag said...

I wonder what percentage of our genome consists of ancient virus-originated DNA.

Eating out of the trash - that's just disgusting. Is he like super-immune to Staph or something? He must've gotten exposed to it at least once...