Old Shots

Measles has been in the news a lot lately, from a recent New York City public health order requiring mandatory vaccinations in an attempt to stop a measles outbreak in Brooklyn that is (inevitably) being challenged in court, to reports of cases of measles in various places in the U.S., to scary outbreaks in other parts of the world like Europe and the Philippines.

measles-vaccine-gettyimages-544419442Although measles is typically viewed as a childhood disease, getting it as an adult can be serious business.   And, because measles is a highly contagious condition that can be readily communicated from one person to another through airborne droplets sneezed and coughed out by random strangers in public places — like airport terminals — it’s a concern for people who do a lot of traveling.   Health care officials uniformly identify vaccination as the best defense against contracting a case of measles.  But what should you do if, like me, you got that painful measles shot in the arm or the butt when you were a kid long ago, and your childhood vaccination and immunization records are God knows where?  Do we all need to get another shot?

Here’s some good news:  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you received the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) shot that every kid of my generation got as a matter of course, you’re in good shape.  The CDC says that the measles component of the vaccine provides lifelong protection at 93 percent efficiency even if, like me, you got your shot more than 50 years ago.  And if you were born before 1957, you don’t need to worry about the measles, either, because the vast majority of people living in the pre-1957 world were exposed to measles as kids and have natural immunity to the disease as a result.

It’s weird to think that, in the 21st century, Americans should be worrying about diseases like measles that can be readily controlled by vaccination, but that’s what happens when parents start getting lax about vaccinating their kids — or believing quacks who raise unproven claims about side effects of vaccination.  If you’re not sure about whether you’ve been vaccinated, you really should talk to your doctor.  When it comes to communicable diseases, we’re all in this together.

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Thoughtless And Hopelessly Self-Absorbed

Sometimes I wonder about if people have changed, or whether there have always been a healthy percentage of seriously jerky people in the American population.  Did the “Greatest Generation” that survived the Great Depression and won World War II to usher in an era of great prosperity, for example, have a significant number of thoughtless and hopelessly self-absorbed members — or is the presence of such people an unfortunate modern phenomenon?

close-up-of-measles-rash-f7cd43Consider this article.  A 57-year-old Wisconsin man stayed in a hotel with people who have the measles — which is one of the most contagious diseases around.  The measles virus is communicated to different people by coughing and sneezing, and the virus is hardy enough to live for two hours in an airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed.  In order words, you don’t need to be in the same room as someone who has measles at the same time for the disease to be transmitted.  The U.S. regularly deals with measles outbreaks when an infected person appears in a community, some members of the community aren’t vaccinated, and the disease quickly starts to spread.  With more and more people blithely deciding they don’t need to have their children vaccinated, the risks of an outbreak are multiplying.

Because the man had potentially been exposed to measles, officials decided it was prudent to keep him quarantined for 21 days and he was ordered to stay home.  Police officers were even posted outside his home to make sure he obeyed the quarantine order.  But because the man felt that he was “going crazy” inside his house, he enlisted his wife to help him escape.  He hid in her car and went to a gym so he could work out.  A gym, of course, would rank right up there as one of the best places for the measles virus to spread — an enclosed space where people are exercising in close quarters, and therefore breathing deeply of the shared air.

The man says he only stayed at the gym for a few minutes, because he started feeling guilty, and when he and his wife were later found outside by deputies, he apologized.  He’s now been charged with violating his quarantine order, and he points out that he never was officially diagnosed with measles and never thought he was symptomatic.  But, of course, that’s not a decision he gets to make, and now he and his wife are being prosecuted for their stupid and dangerous decision.

I think it would be tough to stay cooped up in your house for 21 days without getting cabin fever, but quarantine orders are for the public good.  You’d like to think that a mature adult would accept such an order and deal with it — but apparently that’s not the case.  I think anyone who would violate such an order and unilaterally decide to go to a public place like a gym, where they could potentially be exposing innocent people to one of the most contagious diseases around, should be prosecuted.  Maybe he’ll learn that the world doesn’t revolve around him, and there’s such a thing as a greater good.

Measles — And Vaccinations

There’s been a serious measles outbreak in Europe this year.  In the first half of 2018, there have been more than 41,000 reported cases of measles in Europe, and at least 37 deaths.  The 41,000 cases during the first half of 2018 is almost double the number of measles cases reported during the entire year of 2017 and is almost eight times higher than the reported measles figures for Europe in 2016.

pri_65784434There is a simple apparent cause for the European measles outbreak:  a drop in immunization rates.  Routine vaccinations of young children with the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine — which is shown to be 97% effective in preventing measles — are falling in countries like Italy, Romania, and the Ukraine.  It’s not clear whether parents are simply not as attentive as they once were, or whether they think measles has been wiped out and vaccination isn’t necessary in the modern world, or they’ve fallen prey to scientifically dubious arguments that MMR vaccination leads to conditions like autism.

The decline in vaccinations in the general public is the key to measles outbreaks, because measles is one of the most virulent, communicable diseases around.  It’s spread by droplets in the coughs and sneezes of an infected person, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a person with measles can infect 90 percent of the non-immune people who come within close contact.  And even though measles seems like a simple childhood disease, it can have serious complications, like pneumonia and encephalitis, in some cases.

According to the CDC, there are no measles outbreaks in the U.S.; as of August, there had been only 124 cases of measles in 22 states in 2018, and none in Ohio.   It’s a marked contrast to the figures reported in Europe.  The outbreak in Europe, however, shows that parents and doctors need to keep their guards up and ensure that kids get vaccinated.  And it shows something more:  in this interconnected world, we’ve got to be able to depend on each other to follow the health care basics.  If people stop getting the routine, proven vaccinations, measles may end up being the least of our concerns.

Vaccination And The Downslope

Sometimes you wonder whether civilization has passed its peak and is regressing.  I’ve had that feeling recently, reading about vaccination and outbreaks of preventable infectious diseases, like measles, at places like Disneyland.

Ohio, unfortunately, has the lowest measles vaccination rate in the country.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 86 percent of 19- to 35-month-old children received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in 2013, tying Ohio for the worst performance in the U.S.  Even worse, only 61 percent of Ohio kids have received the full set of childhood vaccinations, which includes shots for diseases like polio, chickenpox, and whooping cough, also among the worst resuts in the country.  Those large numbers of unvaccinated kids can turn into unprotected adults who could be ravaged by an epidemic.

In Ohio, some of the unvaccinated children are part of groups, like the Amish, that oppose the shots for religious or cultural reasons.  But there is no doubt that Ohio’s performance is growing worse in the general population, too.  Statistics from the Ohio Department of Health show a steady decline in immunization rates from 2006 to 2013, to the Buckeye State’s current dismal standing at the bottom.  It’s embarrassing.

Why aren’t Ohio kids getting their shots?  Obviously, because parents aren’t insisting on it.  Some parents justify non-immunization because they’ve heard that vaccinations may be linked to autism — a finding in a since-discredited British study — but even autism advocacy groups reject that link and encourage childhood immunization. Some parents may just be lazy, and others may believe that non-vaccination just won’t affect their kids.  Regardless of how it is characterized, there seems to be a disturbing, anti-scientific feeling at work among American parents.  It’s unimaginable to those of us who remember our mothers marching us to the doctor’s office to roll up our sleeves, smell the fresh, cold scent of alcohol being rubbed on our arms (or butts), and feel the sting of the needle.  They insisted that we get those shots because that was the modern, scientific way to avoid disease.

Now that widespread view apparently has changed, even in educated parts of our society.  How have we reached the point where a significant percentage of parents aren’t protecting their kids by employing proven methods to avoid potentially devastating diseases?  Are other parenting basics being forsaken by these people?  Are we on the downslope here?