Friday, April 25, 2014

Pigeon disease - São Paulo

While we drove back from picking up kids at soccer, my housekeeper (and sometime babysitter) received a phone call from her mom. Her mom was on the way to a memorial service for a nephew (Teia's cousin) who had just died. 

At some point, I really need to post about my housekeeper and her crazy family of six sisters--Teia has been with us for 6 years now and it is a never ending soap opera of bad husbands, house take-overs, brushes with the law, etc. Not for her necessarily but with the six sisters, there's always something happening. I tell her she needs to write a story for Globo and have it be the next soap opera at 8 pm.

Anyway, I asked Teia how the cousin had died. And she said "doença de pombo" which translates as "pigeon disease." And somehow at that moment, it struck us both as funny especially since one of the twins piped up from the backseat "parakeet disease"? But it turns out the disease is real and carried by pigeons. It affects the respiratory system but only really kills if someone has some other compromising factor like AIDS or diabetes.  There is more information in English here and in Portuguese the story about a sufferer of the disease here.

This is not one of the diseases that concern me here. We have a decided lack of pigeons in my neighborhood and my immune system is compromised only as much as I am a reading mum to 23 first graders who seem to alternate colds and fevers week over week. But dengue fever is out and about in my neighborhood and know several people who  have come down with it. It is normally not a killer either--yes there is one version with hemorrhages and that does kill.

This reminds me again of the work that my one English student is doing. She is a professor in the preventative medicine group at University of São Paulo and her studies keep showing that the middle to upper classes here are simply not vaccinating their kids as much as they should be. Some feel that diseases attack only the poor folk (e.g., tuberculosis) and some just have the feeling that various diseases have been eradicated (e.g. polio) and there is no need to put Pedro or Maria through the pain of shots. 

You can't vaccinate against dengue or pigeon fever. But there are others that you can prevent. If you are coming for the World Cup, it doesn't hurt to follow the CDC recommendations here. I think some are a little over the top (malaria, rabies) but a nice little hepatitis shot never hurt anyone. And watch out for the pigeons. 

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