How bad is measles? Pediatrician who has seen it kill patients implores vaccinating
Measles is back. German measles and chickenpox will undoubtedly follow unless more people vaccinate their children. Some think they are “innocuous childhood diseases”, but if you had ever seen a child who was very sick with any of these vaccine-preventable diseases, you would know better.
In 1977, I was a brand-new doctor training to be a pediatrician. A 12-year-old girl came in with the classic rash of chickenpox, a “dew drop on a rose petal,” and a high fever.
I was about to send her home, because there was no treatment for chickenpox, when her parents told me she had cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis affects about 30,000 Americans who inherit a single impaired gene. Patients cannot handle the very thick mucus that develops in the lungs, especially from infections.
This particular child developed pneumonia as a consequence of contracting chickenpox. For the next 8 weeks as she slowly became weaker and weaker, all we could do was to try and make her comfortable until she died.
She knew she was not going to get better, but she wanted to be ready for the Bas Mitzvah ceremony that was not to be. So I helped her study. She died slowly of asphyxiation.
In 1991 a little boy came into the office with choryza (massive amounts of dark mucus draining from his nose), a 103 degree temperature, a cough, red eyes, and a rash. It was measles. He had no immunizations because he belonged to a church in Kensington that did not believe in medical care. Fortunately for this child, his father disagreed with the church and brought him in. The little boy did not die, but did have to be hospitalized. Of the 201 children in the church’s school, 134 became ill with measles and five children died in just 3 months.
The United States had essentially eliminated measles a decade ago. Between the Internet spreading “fake news” and people believing that medical authorities really do not know what they are doing, this horrible disease has returned. Over a hundred cases have occurred in northern New Jersey and southern New York mainly in somewhat isolated ultra-orthodox Jewish communities but also in their neighbors. Another 50 have occurred outside of Portland, Ore., where up to 20 percent of children do not have immunizations up to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) standards. At least 11 adults in the U.S. have died of measles in the last 13 years. Yet charlatans like Bob Sears, a doctor who thankfully has lost his license, repeatedly insist that no one in this country dies of measles.
Why are children not getting their immunizations? A few families claim religious objections in spite of immunizations being approved by all major denominations of Christians, Jews and Muslims. A very few have valid medical objections such as immune-incompetence after chemotherapy.
Some are still sure that shots cause all sorts of horrible conditions such as autism even though this notion has been proven false multiple times. An amazing number of people are sure since they got a bad cold after an immunization, the shot must be at fault, and not anything else they might have encountered.
I have heard parents say that immunizations are not “natural”, but neither are antibiotics and these same parents insist I give their children antibiotics for viral illnesses that the medicine cannot fix. Finally, although no one admits it (since it makes them look petty), some people are just afraid of needles and are teaching their children to be the same.
Measles and varicella (chicken pox) are often dismissed as “children’s diseases.” I can remember the havoc these illnesses wrought among my patients before immunizations were widely available. I remember caring for immunosuppressed adolescents or young pregnant women who developed chicken pox pneumonia and died in front of me. And I have seen severe and permanent brain damage developing in children a week or two after they had measles.
I love history and am amazed how people forget the millions of native Americans who died from “innocuous, childhood diseases” after the Europeans came. When the colonists of the New World or Hawaii introduce measles and chicken pox, each of these ailments killed at least 20 percent of the native people.
Measles is particularly infectious. People who haven’t been immunized can get measles from sitting in a chair that someone with measles sat in four hours before them. The CDC thinks that over 93 percent of people have to be immunized to stop the spread of measles through the population. I have heard so many parents insist that refusing to vaccinate their child hurts no one else, but they are endangering everyone. Immunizations work because entire societies are working together to protect each other by preventing the spread of disease. We are all part of a greater whole. Protect your child — and everyone else’s child, too.