Measles in early 2015; where do I begin? Tough, let me tell you, but MRW is at your service.
Let’s start with a few facts … because, Lord knows, there’ll be plenty of non-facts coming soon! Viral fear—my term—should be a function of the risk of: (a) death or serious health problems; and (b) getting infected.
Ro is the number of people a sick person will likely infect. A bigger Ro means contagiousness is greater. (Information comes from No, Seriously, How Contagious Is Ebola?, written by Michaeleen Doucleff for NPR last October.)
So there’s Ebola. The Ro for Ebola is 2. Death is definitely possible, but it’s not likely I’ll get Ebola. (Really, really low are my chances, for the disease has both a low Ro value and the likelihood of any contact with an infected person is very small.)
And the Ro for measles? 18, which means the transmission rate is 9X greater for measles. (And, as well, I am far more likely to be in contact with people who have measles than Ebola.)
But, it’s only measles, right? Wrong! According to the World Health Organization’s Measles Fact Sheet—I did promise facts—147,500 people died from measles, worldwide, in 2013. Measles killed as many as 2.6 million people as recently as 1980, before vaccinations became common worldwide.
Yes, but I live in America. True, and the number of cases and deaths is very small. Why? Table that question for a moment. The number of cases in the United States has increased 10-fold per annum in just the last few years, according to a Mike Corones piece in Reuters, Numbers Show Just How Deadly Measles Can Be, posted on February 3.
Back to the question! Correlation does not prove causation, but the number of unvaccinated individuals has been increasing, cases are found, increasingly, in communities with low vaccination rates, and measles cases are still a tiny fraction of the number before the measles vaccine was developed in the early 1960s. Again, correlation does not prove causation, but I’m persuaded that vaccinations matter greatly in dealing with measles. (On another level, why are we even having this conversation?)
So what do some of our leaders say? Up first: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a medical doctor. Here’s Jose DelReal with Rand Paul, M.D., Says Most Vaccines Should Be ‘Voluntary’ from the February 2 Washington Post. Senator Paul said: “I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” No cases mentioned, and later on he claimed he never said the vaccines caused the mental disorders. That’s political courage!
How about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie? Arthur Caplan has the details in Ebola, Measles and Chris Christie’s Inconsistent Healthcare Beliefs, posted at Forbes on February 2. Bottom line? He tried to keep an uninfected nurse under what amounted to house arrest because she worked in Africa dealing with the Ebola crisis and, now, he suggests government must balance public health and parental choice. Nothing about a nurse’s choice!
Then there’s Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, whose claims about the tie-in between the measles outbreak and “illegal aliens” are captured by Scott Keyes for Think Progress on February 3 in Congressman: Measles Outbreak May Be Caused By ‘Illegal Aliens’. (For what it’s worth, the recent measles outbreak started at The Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland, where a day-pass costs $90/96. Yo, Congressman, most of your “illegal aliens” can’t afford Disneyland—who can?—and your comments lack any evidentiary support.)
Underlying the nonsense, of course, is freedom. These politicians—and it’s a small number—pander to the “no one tells me what to do” crowd. And, thus, we cannot ignore North Carolina’s new idiot Senator, Thom Tillis. Read about his views on employer’s telling their employees to wash their hands after using the toilet in Senator Says Restaurant Employees Shouldn’t Be Required to Wash Their Hands by Colby Itkowitz for the Washington Post on February 3.
Here’s the real problem, stupid noise aside. We’ve elevated the individual for decades—really, this is Ronald Reagan as the gift who keeps on giving—and, now, we’re reaping the rewards. Public health and science be damned, by G-d, for it’s all about me and mine!
In closing, I think I’ve been pretty temperate about this issue. For those who want more, check out Jon Stewart, shared on Daily Kos with a partial transcript.
P.S. For a quick down and dirty on the problem in plain English, read 6 Terrifying Facts about Measles by Kiera Butler for Mother Jones on January 28. Ms. Butler is living in the “reality-based community,” whatever you may think about the magazine she works for.