I’ve been practicing medicine in Teton Valley for more than 15 years. I’ve had the pleasure of being a family physician for many of you, and I’ve enjoyed watching your families grow. I want what’s best for you and your family, whether or not you choose me as your provider. What’s best for your family is often what’s best for mine, and when a patient asks me “what would you do if it were your child/parent/friend?” I tell them the truth.
I vaccinate. My kids are vaccinated, as are my wife and I. I recommend all my patients who are of proper age and health get immunized against several diseases that once were commonplace in the United States. The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is one of them. We declared measles eliminated from this country in 2000, but the incidences of disease have increased in recent years.
So far this year we have seen over 100 cases of measles spread across 14 states in this country. The majority of those (92 percent) are related to an outbreak linked to theme parks in California including DisneyLand. The 102 cases just in the month of January puts us on track for exceeding the record number of cases (644) we saw in all of 2014.
While we’ve yet to see a case of measles this year in Idaho, we still need to protect ourselves, our families and our community from it.
What’s the big deal about measles?
Measles is highly contagious.
On average, a person with measles will spread the disease to 18 other unvaccinated people, compared to an average of 2 for Ebola and less than 2 for influenza. Measles can spread even when no symptoms are present (4 days before and after a rash appears). It is spread through the air via droplets from sneezes or coughs and can linger on surfaces for up to two hours.
Measles can be deadly.
Complications from the initial viral infection of the measles can lead to hospitalization and even death. Ear infections and pneumonia are the prevailing complications, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) can also result. If a person with a compromised immune system comes in contact with the virus, risk is even higher.
An MMR vaccine is more than 95% effective.
The MMR vaccine is provided in two doses, one at age 12-47 months and the next when the child is 4-6 years old. It is the best defense against catching measles, mumps or rubella. You can also choose to add varicella to the vaccination, (MMRV), which vaccinates against chickenpox. While no vaccine is 100% effective, MMR and MMRV are our best options for preventing measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox in our children and in the children who attend school and/or play with our children.
Neither MMR nor MMRV cause autism.
The argument that vaccines cause autism is false. Much of the vaccine-autism argument is based on a 1998 article published in the medical journal The Lancet. However in 2010 that article was discredited and The Lancet retracted the piece.
Herd immunity doesn’t work if the herd isn’t vaccinated.
The basic principle of herd immunity is that if enough people are vaccinated (immune) to a disease, those who are too young or sick to get the vaccine themselves will be protected. Some may argue that not vaccinating their child isn’t such a big deal because the majority of children and people are vaccinated. But there’s a tipping point in herd immunity where if even a small percentage of the community is not immune (unvaccinated) it puts the entire community at risk.
The takeaway here is that I hope you, like I do, will vaccinate yourself and your children against these diseases that are now making appearances in our country despite having been wiped out at one point or another.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions, and understand the potential consequences to your family and to the community as a whole based on your decision to vaccinate or not.
Here’s to a healthy 2015 for all of us.
Dr. Chad Horrocks is a family practice physician offering fulltime family medical care at Driggs Health Clinic. To make an appointment call (208) 354-2302 or visit tvhcare.org to learn more about Teton Valley Health Care.
This article originally published in the Teton Valley News.More