Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Measles - scourge of the privileged?

There's an outbreak of measles in my region.  And apparently, it's on the worrying rise on the continent.

Measles is a dangerous disease.  It can cause inflammation of the brain, resulting in the death of your child.  It's easily preventable with a jab, yet there remains resistance amongst certain communities, the argument being that vaccinations are a bad thing, that instead of bolstering the immune system, they compromise it.

This is my child with chicken pox.  It doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to consider these pox to be small rather than chicken, they look the same to a layperson.  But of course they're not small, because small pox has been eradicated.  Thanks to a worldwide programme of vaccination this deadly disease no longer exists.  Thank God - she'd be dead.  As would her sister.

Their contracting chicken pox reminded me quite how hideously pervasive and speedy disease can be.  Within 24 hours she was covered in pustular blisters, her skin hot with fever, her discomfort extreme.  The itchy phase was worse even than the ill, feverish stage, lasting days and driving her to howling distraction.  Needless to say she now has the scars to show for it.

The risk of complication with chicken pox is thankfully rare.  With measles it's not.  Associated complications can range from diarrhoea, pneumonia, otitis media, to encephalitis and corneal ulceration (albeit rarer).   That is not something I would risk of my children.  Nor would I be comfortable having them infect others.

Those mothers who opt not to vaccinate are fortunate in that statistically in this country, immunised children predominate so reducing the risk of contagion, but what if the balance tips?  In some communities down here in the South West there are an awful lot of mothers who are anti-vaccination.  Take up of MMR where I live is just 50%...  These mums tend to stick together in that they share the same principles, send their kids to the same schools etc and when there's an outbreak it spreads.  Assuming their children don't get it, they'll grow up unprotected and if girls, presumably go on to get pregnant.  Should they contract measles then, it's a double whammy - measles is more serious in adults and particularly dangerous to the unborn child.

Our bodies will fight off and become immune to bugs they've been exposed to in tiny controlled doses.  I'd love to live in a world where we could count on our natural immunity to fight off epidemics of, for example, measles and polio, but we don't.

What's ironic is that a couple of months ago the government pledged over £800 million to fund vaccination programmes in the developing world, yet here in the healthy, wealthy, privileged UK, there are still affluent 'well-informed' mothers who'd rather turn it down.

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