Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Measles and Disneyland

1. By now you've heard of the measles outbreak in California. The last I checked nearly 100 cases affecting multiple states had been reported. We are on our way to beat 2014 (~650 cases), which was itself a major record.

2. Wired and Steve Novella rightly point the finger at the burgeoning anti-vaxx movement, and rebut some of the nonsense floating around. Here's Dr. Novella:
One thing is absolutely certain from these numbers – this outbreak has largely been caused by those who are not vaccinated. As you can see, most of those affected are unvaccinated. The vaccination rate for MMR is about 90% in the US. This means those who are unvaccinated were about 67 times more likely to be infected with measles in this outbreak than those fully vaccinated. 
If vaccination rates were higher, then herd immunity could have stopped or severely limited the spread of the disease. That is the point of herd immunity – if enough people are protected then the virus is less likely to find a vulnerable host and continue the spread. The vaccine is about 97% effective in those fully vaccinated, which is why there were a few vaccinated people who contracted the disease. 
3. Orac at ScienceBlogs highlights that measles is not your garden-variety sickness. Nearly 25% of the initial patients had to be hospitalized. As he quotes, the symptoms and after-effects are not benign.
Measles is a dangerous disease-one of the most dangerous with which a child under five years of age can be attacked. It is especially apt to be fatal to teething children. It tends to kill by producing inflammation of the lungs.
4. So how do you educate (even Fox News is trying) - assuming at least a sub-population of the anti-vaxxers would listen. One method is to physically demonstrate it with a metaphor. Here is a YouTube video by Penn and Taylor which beautifully illustrates this strategy.

5. Or, if you are the Onion, you could try humor.
Say what you will about me, but I’ve read the information out there and weighed every option, so I am confident in my choice to revive a debilitating illness that was long ago declared dead and let it spread like wildfire from school to school, town to town, and state to state, until it reaches every corner of the country. Leaving such a momentous decision to someone you haven’t even met and who doesn’t care about your child personally—now that’s absurd! Maybe I choose to bring back the mumps. Or maybe it’s diphtheria. Or maybe it’s some other potentially fatal disease that can easily pass among those too young or too medically unfit to be vaccinated themselves. But whichever highly communicable and formerly wiped-out disease that I opt to resurrect with a vengeance, it is a highly personal decision that only I and my family have the liberty to make.

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