Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Consequences of Stupid

Earlier this month I posted on the potential effects of parents' decisions not to vaccinate their children from diseases that we could wipe out. Over the last two days, both the Los Angeles Times and the NY Times have published articles on the consequences of the failure to properly vaccinate infants and children. The stimulus for such coverage was the announcement by officials in California that an epidemic of pertussis ("whooping cough") has struck the state.

First, from the Los Angeles Times:

Whooping cough is a bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system. There have been 910 confirmed cases of the highly contagious disease in California between Jan. 1 and June 15. During the same time last year, 219 cases were confirmed.

The high season for pertussis is July and August (because of the hot weather), so the figure will probably rise to thousands of cases in short order. While there have been only five deaths so far (infants), that figure will also climb. The disease is highly contagious, which makes the spread of the disease to even higher figures predictable.

The NY Times article cites statistics which back up the threat of that spread:

Periodic outbreaks of pertussis are not uncommon. The disease is endemic worldwide, and some 5,000 to 7,000 cases are reported in the United States in a normal year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemics occur every three to five years in the United States, with the most recent in 2005, when there were more than 25,000 reported cases nationwide, and nearly 3,200 in California, where 7 people died.

The NY Times article, while noting the need for "booster" shots for families of infants (the initial vaccination loses its potency within 5 years), also gets a cheap shot in on Mexican immigrants, quoting one California official who suggests that a lot of the cases were among that demographic. Oddly, that same article fails to note that many non-Mexican and non-poor parents are refusing to get their children vaccinated because of a misguided belief that vaccinations cause autism (see my earlier post, linked to above). If you're going to blame those from countries that don't promote child health care the way this country claims to, then at least a nod in the general direction of those parents who should know better should have been made.

Either/or, one thing is clear: it's going to be a dangerously long and hot summer, and infants and children are going to suffer.



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