One especially damaging effect of the explosion of information enabled by this digitally powered era of communication is the speed with which that technology delivers great big doses of misinformation. It is seen in baseless political attacks designed to inflame and divide. It is seen in viral misinformation that stokes irrational fears and threatens to roll back progress lately won in areas like medicine and race relations.
That is one of the reasons health reporter David Bruce wound up writing a story for Sunday that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago. The story warned readers who plan to travel to Pittsburgh — or any other places on the growing list of U.S. locales with confirmed measles outbreaks — to take precautions to ensure their immunizations are adequate.
Do that, or risk infection from a disease once considered eradicated in one of the nation’s greatest public health victories. As of Sunday, five measles cases had been confirmed in Pittsburgh, adding to the more than 700 nationwide.
Measles, Erie County Public Health Nurse Karen Wiggers said, is not just a little rash. It can kill.
Even when not lethal, it can leave patients deaf or brain-damaged. Virulent, it passes between people via sneezing, coughing, even talking, and is capable of lingering in the air or on a surface. As Charlotte Berringer, director of community health for the Erie County Department of Health, told Bruce, “Nine out of 10 people who are within range of the virus and have no immunity will get measles.”
Consider these oft-repeated statistics: Before vaccination became routine, 48,000 children a year were hospitalized with measles, 1,000 of them developed permanent brain damage and 500 died.
A number of factors have led to measles’ resurgence worldwide, including poverty, war and tight vaccination supplies, as The New York Times has reported. But the outbreaks also have been enabled by those who refuse to vaccinate children due to irrational fears fueled by misinformation, including the debunked myth that measles vaccination causes autism.
Some believe herd immunity frees them to exercise liberty and eschew vaccination. But that herd immunity only stands as long as enough people in the herd are vaccinated and can contain the disease’s spread.
There is only one good answer here: vaccinate. Parents who refuse to do so endanger not only their own children, but others around them who might be too young to be vaccinated or who, because of a variety of health conditions, cannot be vaccinated.
People have too easily forgotten the eras when deadly, disfiguring diseases held communities in thralls of fear and grief. They risk returning the most vulnerable among us to those days because of fear that has no basis. Don’t turn back the clock.
— The Erie Times News