Friday, August 22, 2008

Measles: The Comeback

It's all over the Health News today, NPR, CNN, the New York Times, they're all reporting on the uptick in Measles cases in this country. For the first seven months of this year, 131 cases have been reported, the most in a decade, and more than double the cases for all of 2007. Of these cases, 15 were hospitalized, and 4 of those hospitalized were infants.

Of course, health officials and doctors are concerned about the increase. A decade ago, they declared the disease "eradicated," and now, the numbers are rising. And officials point to parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids--many because they fear autism as a side effect--as the cause. But as NPR reports, "Dr. William Schaffner, who chairs the department of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says there's absolutely no scientific evidence to back that [fear] up." Schaffner also points out the serious nature of the Measles disease, cautioning parents not to be "cavalier," pointing to complications like pneumonia and encephalitis that can occur with a Measles infection. He reminds us that, prior to "the Measles vaccine in this country, there were 400 deaths of U.S. children each year caused by Measles."

The CNN article also mentions an outbreak of whooping cough--"which can be fatal to children"--in San Francisco private school among unvaccinated kids.

So, potentially deadly--but totally preventable--communicable diseases are on the rise in this country. And the rise in infection rates is, by many health officials and medical professionals, laid squarely at the doorstep of parents who refuse to vaccinate.

But those parents who believe unequivocally that vaccinations pose a real danger, are, as the New York Times reports, "unapologetic about the return of Measles." J.B. Handley, co-founder of Generation Rescue says "Most parents I know will take Measles over autism." Generation Rescue cites published medical studies on their web site, linking autism to the Measles vaccine (MMR).

Yet the return of Measles does pose a threat, especially for infants who are too young to be vaccinated. The more unvaccinated children there are, the more cases of Measles there will be, leaving infants more vulnerable to this serious illness than they were a decade ago.

I don't intend to stir major debate with this post, though I do think discussion is essential. This issue affects us all. I personally believe wholeheartedly in vaccination, and find the evidence linking autism to vaccines less than convincing, especially when examined next to the indisputable effects of infectious diseases. I have however, heard--and even blogged about--some frightening anecdotal evidence linking vaccination to autism, and even death.

And so, we are left to make these decisions for our families, using the available information to inform our choices.

Anyone out there feel differently about this issue? Let me know what you think.


beth♥ said...

I'm all for vaccination. Of course ... I had my measles booster when we were in the States one time and returned to Kenya not knowing that particular batch had been recalled. We found out later ... when I was 19 and came down with a full blown case of the measles while back in Kenya one summer. Boo. My point being that the vaccines don't always cut it. We still need them though. Although - I do ponder that my children have escaped the chicken pox scourge ... so not fair! :o)

Stace said...

I am also all for vaccination. If you have a vaccination the chances are that you are protected against that disease. If you aren't, then obviously, you're not protected. However, I can understand parents being worried about what vaccinations may 'do' to their children. There is so much debate on this topic -- and a lot of information in favour of and against. So it's a hard one to comment on. But, i think its every parents own choice in what they do. Its just my choice to have Cooper vaccinated :)

Dawn said...

Funny. I was just talking to a friend out this. She had shingles and her daughter got chicken pox from her. My kids have been vaccinated for the most part. I have chosen the schedule though. For some of the vacs I just feel they are too young. Hep B a good example. I was just reading about the HPV vac thinking of my daughter. No, I don't want to give her a vac for a sexually transmitted disease when she is 9 years old! My thoughts - research but don't just answer "Yes" or "No" also think of timing.

Meaghan said...

Beth, you make a good point about the potential ineffectiveness of vaccines. We just went through a winter flu season in which the vaccines used were largely unable to combat last year's strain of influenza. We do well to remember that nothing is 100%. (I agree, so not fair that we were forced to suffer the chicken pox! Our kids have no idea how good they've got it!)

Stace, you cut to the heart of the matter: It is up to us parents to make the best, most informed choices we can. This is a very, very important issue, that will have lasting public health repercussions.

Dawn, I agree with you wholeheartedly about spacing out vaccines. They do get so many, so young. And it can be frightening! Regarding the HPV vaccine--which is, I agree, a ridiculous thing to give a 9 year old girl--there have been questions about the saftey of this vaccine, and the CDC is investigating reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome and even death, following this vaccine. So far, however, the CDC regards it as safe.

potty mouth mama said...

Great GREAT post. I think it's so strange that our generation were all vaccinated - and we've turned out ok, haven't we?? Do you hear what I'm saying? I read an interesting thing about Amanda Peet in Cookie Magazine - she did a great interview.. though was a little harsh, but interesting nonetheless.

Meaghan said...

Potty Mouth Mama--I did see the Amanda Peet interview in Cookie, and it was a good one--despite her unfortunate choice of the word "parasites."

It's a conversation we need to have and one that affects us all. As Peet points out, the sheild vaccinations provide only works if most of us participate. Once large numbers of people startt opting out, the whole system breaks down, and infants start getting hospitalized for Measles.