Russell Wangersky: How the Internet is like an elephant
Remember that thing you did when you were young? The thing with the statue in the middle of the fountain, the photographs and all that foaming dish washing detergent?
First, it was bad science, then it was bad choices — and now, the measles, an old scourge, is coming back with a new threat.
Measles was almost eradicated by immunization, but has been coming back since anti-vaccination groups focused on now-discredited scientific claims.
The fact that the claims have been discredited doesn’t mean the fear mongering and misinformation have stopped — there’s even one candidate for U.S. president, Donald Trump, whose charitable foundation has donated money to anti-vaccine campaigns.
Now that measles has a foothold again, it means there are enough cases out there that babies too young to be vaccinated can be exposed to the disease.
Not only is measles a horrible sickness to suffer through, it can also kill. One in 20 children infected develops pneumonia, and one in 1,000 suffers from encephalitis, which carries the danger of deafness or intellectual deficits.
All because of a refusal by some parents to have their children receive the two shots of the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine (MMR).
That refusal has seen the number of cases of measles in the U.S. rise to more than 660, the largest number since widespread inoculation began in that country.
Now, though, the stakes may have gotten a little bit higher.
It seems having a child who develops measles may also put them in line for a fatal post-measles complication.
Researchers have found that people who get the measles as an infant or child have a much higher chance of later developing the often-fatal subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a progressive brain inflammation. The measles virus — or a mutated version of it — remains in tissue and comes back with a vengeance.
The new research is sobering: the general scientific understanding is that one person in 100,000 develops SSPE, a neurological complication that can remain dormant for long periods of time. Once it develops, however, except for the earliest of treatments, which may help manage the disorder, patients usually die within three years.
Remember that one in 100,000 number? It looked for a while like your chances of getting SSPE was one in 1,700 if you’d had measles as a child. And now, an even more recent study indicates that number is as low as one out of every 609 people.
There were already more than enough reasons to have your children inoculated. Would you decide to have your child skip that MMR inoculation, based on dodgy science and Internet searches?
Have you considered that taking a risk with your children — and with others too young to be vaccinated — might in fact doom them to a horrible fate?
The risks you are taking are not only risks for your own children — and potentially fatal risks at that. There are risks — long-running risks — for other members of the population as well.