The biggest news headline from today is, obviously, the U.S. government shutting down. Because an agreement couldn’t be arrived upon between the Senate and the House, there is a partial government shut down happening for the first time in 17 years.
But I’d like to talk about something else that it happening for the first time in 17 years. It’s something that doesn’t have quite the same media attention but warrants the attention of every parent out there. This year is shaping up to have hundreds of cases of measles in the U.S.
Why People Are Scared
Let’s talk about what exactly measles is. It is a virus (so antibiotics don’t work on it) that affects mainly the respiratory system. It is spread through sneezing, coughing, or other contact with the sick person’s mucus, and is extremely contagious. In fact, if you come in contact with the virus and don’t have an immunity to it, you have a 90% chance of catching the disease.
An infected person can transmit the virus four days before the rash and four days after the rash appears. In comparison, the flu is only contagious for 6 days total and has a much lower percentage of chance of getting sick.
So once someone gets the virus in their system, they will start off with cold like symptoms and will lead to a high fever (around 104 degrees), rash, and not eating. And as if that’s not bad enough, measles can have serious complications, particularly in children under 5.
Some include pneumonia, encephalitis (brain swelling), layers of the cornea of the eye coming off, and, of course, death. Around 40% of young children who get measles are hospitalized for it. And even if they don’t die (only 3 in 1000 do), they can have life-altering effects as a result, such as brain damage, eye scarring and deafness.
A Faulty Vaccine?
So, what gives? Why are measles making such a comeback after being virtually eradicated from the U.S. for years?
At first, scientists thought that the vaccine was faulty. So, being the good scientists they are, they ran it though series of tests, did regional and national studies, and searched for the problem with the vaccine. What they found was that the vaccine actually did its job. It was determined that of those who received the vaccine, 95% did not get the measles. And of the 5% who did, their cases were much less severe than those who were not immunized.
The Parental Gamble
So, why the resurgence then?
As unpopular as it is to say, studies have concluded that it’s because more and more parents are choosing to not vaccinate their children.
Of those stricken with measles so far in 2013, 92% are unvaccinated. The diseases are more concentrated in pockets where people, particularly preschool-aged children, are not vaccinated. It’s going beyond correlation and sticking firmly in causation.
Families not choosing to vaccinate are gambling with their children’s health, the studies are showing. But they are not only gambling with their own children, but also with any children too young for the vaccine (you have to be one to get it in most cases), medically-complex children, children who are allergic to vaccines, immunocompromised children, and children whose vaccine hasn’t yet taken effect, if their potentially-infected child comes in contact with them.
I’m sure we all know that many parents don’t vaccinate because they fear the vaccination. Even though the link between vaccines and autism has long been debunked, many are still worried about the effects (besides potentially keeping their child well) of the MMR shot.
So…is the MMR shot really safe? According to the unbiased studies of it, yes. It was found that 5% may have mild side effects such as a fever for a few days or a rash. But the severe reactions that are used as scare tactics against the vaccine, such as brain swelling, happen in less than 0.000001% of cases.
Get the vaccine: .000001% chance of ending up very sick from the vaccine and a 5% chance of getting measles if in contact with the virus.
Don’t get vaccine: 0% chance of ending up very sick from the vaccine and 90% chance of getting measles if in contact with the virus.
Some parents are concerned with the ingredients, but none of the “scary” ones are in it. No mercury, no formaldehyde, no aluminum.
It’s clear that measles are making a comeback and that vaccinating is the best defense. And the sooner that more children are vaccinated, the sooner we can stop worrying about these diseases. But, whatever you choose, I just hope we can all make it through this disease-riddled season unscathed. Let’s let Halloween be the scariest part of our children’s month.