09252018Tue
Last updateFri, 21 Sep 2018 10am

Weighing up the risks of common medications

With some public health experts warning about the overuse of antibiotics and vaccines, many individuals struggle with uncertainty when faced with situations that call for their use.

For example, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine scientist, Peter Doshi, Ph.D., published a critique October 29 in a British medical journal, charging that “the [influenza] vaccine may be less beneficial and less safe than has been claimed, and the threat of influenza seems to be overstated.”  But the warning didn’t come soon enough to alert Kimball Wheeler to a potential problem.

“People ask me why I get flu shots,” said Wheeler, a veteran mezzo-soprano who, from her home base in Guadalajara, still maintains a busy schedule of teaching and performing. “They say, ‘I haven’t had one in years.’ But, being a singer, I couldn’t afford to get sick because I’d be out thousands of dollars, so you accept risks, because the benefits outweigh the risks. With the shots, I might get the flu, but for a short time, or not at all.”

Wheeler received a flu shot last month at a Mexican national health service clinic after being reassured that her recent cold would not complicate receiving the vaccination. But she woke up the following morning with a problem.

“I felt awful,” she said, not realizing that subsequent developments would make that morning’s illness seem mild by comparison.

Because the malady lingered, Wheeler went on Saturday, November 8, to a trusted doctor, Eduardo Macias Cárdenas. (She brought along her cat, Chaser, in a carrier, planning to go to a veterinarian later to get him vaccinated.) Macias informed her that one should wait a whole month after any respiratory infection before getting a flu shot. Next, attempting to knock out stubborn bugs, the doctor injected Wheeler with a blend of antibiotics, including penicillin, which he had tailor made for her.

“I’d had the same combination from him before and it worked well,” she remembers. “The nurse gave me the shot. Almost instantaneously, I had a weird metallic taste in my mouth. Then my palms started to itch and I felt weak and dizzy.”

During the short time during which the puzzling reactions unfolded, Wheeler had made her way out of the doctor’s office, with Chaser in his carrier. But she soon found she had to sit down on a curb.

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