It’s time to Break It Down!
Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease caused by the measles virus. Symptoms usually develop 10–12 days after exposure to an infected person and last 7–10 days. Initial symptoms typically include fever, often greater than 40 °C (104.0 °F), cough, runny nose, and inflamed eyes. Common complications include diarrhea (in 8% of cases), middle ear infection (7%), and pneumonia (6%). Less commonly seizures, blindness, or inflammation of the brain may occur.
Measles is an airborne disease, which spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of infected people. It may also spread through contact with saliva or nasal secretions. Nine out of ten people who are not immune and share living space with an infected person will be infected. People are infectious to others from four days before to four days after the start of the rash. Most people do not get the disease more than once.
The measles vaccine is effective at preventing the disease, and is often delivered in combination with other vaccines. Vaccination resulted in a 75% decrease in deaths from measles between 2000 and 2013, with about 85% of children worldwide being currently vaccinated. Once a person has become infected, no specific treatment is available,
Measles affects about 20 million people per year, primarily in developing areas of Africa and Asia. No other vaccine-preventable disease causes as many deaths. In 1980, 2.6 million people died due to the disease; by 1990, the number was reduced to 545,000. In 2014, global vaccination programs reduced the number of deaths from measles to 73,000. Rates of disease and deaths increased in 2017 due to a decrease in immunization.
The 2019 calculus of what in some cases is an anti-vaccination movement has materialized in the form of a direct uptick of measles cases in the state of Washington. As of yesterday afternoon, there were 36 confirmed cases and another 11 suspected in the state. According to the CDC, Washington (the state) has the sixth-lowest rate of childhood vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella in the country as of 2017.
In his statement declaring the state of emergency last Friday, Governor Jay Inslee said:
“The measles virus is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children, and the existence of 26 confirmed cases [the number at the time the state of emergency was declared] in the state of Washington creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties.”
Not only is the virus that carries the disease highly contagious, it can be contracted without being in proximity to an infected person, because it lingers in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves the area. Moreover, it takes days (up to 4) for the familiar and telltale rash to appear. As a result, people may not realize they are infected until after they have visited numerous public places, heightening the prospect that the virus will be spread further to others.
Of the 36 confirmed cases, 35 were in Clark County, and in 31 of those cases, the person infected had not been immunized. In the remaining four Clark County cases, immunization histories have not been verified. Clark County, Washington borders Portland, Oregon. This spikes concern that the spread of the virus may cross state lines.
Most of the people infected are children, who, along with those who are immunocompromised, are most susceptible to the potentially deadly complications of the virus, including pneumonia and encephalitis. Worldwide the disease currently kills 100,000 people per year, according to the Mayo Clinic, mostly children under the age of five.
Measles was declared completely eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, thanks to near-universal vaccinations. But a recent surge in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children because of philosophical objections, or (repeatedly disproven) fears that vaccines cause autism, has caused an increase. Seattle and Spokane, Washington and Portland, Oregon are among several “hot spots” around the country where there is greater risk of infection with previously eliminated or nearly eliminated diseases due to high rates of parents opting out of vaccinating. Scott Lindquist, MD, Communicable Disease State Epidemiologist for the Washington State Department of Health, pointed out that state-wide in Washington, childhood vaccination rates are mostly high, “it’s just that we have pockets of people with lower rates,” he says.
The so-called “anti-vax movement” is furthered by the sharing of un-founded conspiracy theories and junk science on social media, and despite reports on the role of social media in furthering the dangerous trend, Facebook has so far declined to take action against groups and pages dedicated to misinforming concerned parents about the risks of vaccination.
Anti-vaccination is not a newfound position. Anti-vaccine groups in the 19th Century typically:
Said that vaccines would make you sick
Blamed medical despotism, “a hard, materialistic, infidel thing” for creating the vaccination acts
Warned about poisonous chemicals in vaccines, namely carbolic acid in the smallpox vaccine
Argued that Jenner’s smallpox vaccine didn’t work
Pushed alternative medical practices, including herbalists, homeopaths, and hydropaths, etc.
Used their own literature to scare people away from vaccines
There were even celebrities who joined the anti-vaccine movement, including George Barnard Shaw, who also believed in homeopathy and eugenics.
The anti-vaccine groups in the 21st Century aren’t that much different from their 19th Century counterparts. They still:
Say that vaccines will make you sick
Blame Big Pharma
Argue that Jenner’s smallpox vaccine didn’t work and neither do any of the other ones
Push alternative medical practices, including herbalists, homeopaths, chiropractic, naturopaths, and other holistic providers
Use their own literature to scare people away from vaccines
There are also contemporary celebrities who back the movement, including:
Barbara Loe Fisher
Robert De Niro
Despite the protests of naysayers, vaccines are one of the most successful programs in modern health care, reducing, and in some cases even eliminating, serious infectious diseases. Public support for the vaccination program remains strong, especially in the United States where vaccination rates are currently at an all-time high of >95 percent (CDC 2004). Yet, despite a long history of safety and effectiveness, vaccines have always had their critics: some parents and a tiny fringe of doctors question whether vaccinating children is worth what they perceive as the risks. In recent years, the anti-vaccination movement, largely based on poor science and fear-mongering, has become more vocal and even hostile (Hughes 2007).
While I do not live near the state of Washington, I have friends who reside there. I hope for their benefit, and the benefit and safety of all who believe in science, that people who have chosen to eschew immunizing their children will redouble their research and come to their senses, or, as the title of this post suggests, “Don’t Be A Putz; Get Your Kids Vaccinated!”
I’m done; holla back!
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