I was listening to National Public Radio (NPR) one morning and they were giving an update on the Ebola epidemic in Guinea.
That epidemic has killed thousands of West Africans in the past year, and superstition and misinformation still rule the country. Many in Guinea still believe Ebola doesn’t exist, or the vaccine is part of some CIA plot that western countries are pushing.
Others believe the sick are carted away and quietly dispatched. People hide when they’re sick because of these beliefs. No one wants to expose their family and friends to the very real possibility of Ebola and death.
Sitting in my car, on my way to work, it was very easy to forget for a moment that Guinea was a third-world country lacking in universal education, a functional medical system, internet connection, or even the power to reach the population without a personal visit.
Science in Guinea has to compete with alternative world views, with medicine-men trained in ancient lore in what we might call superstition. None of these are particularly effective against Ebola.
So I drove to work, confident in the knowledge that I had scientifically proven therapies at my Phoenix clinic, and we didn’t rely on any voodoo medicine.
Then my wife called me with questions about the measles. We had just returned from Disneyland to celebrate my daughter’s 12th birthday, and that very weekend, the public health department was warning recent Disneyland visitors about possibly being exposed to measles. Timing is everything …
Fortunately, my family only had colds. We have all had our vaccinations, so no chance of measles for us. But there were people at Disneyland who got there in buses, planes, automobiles, or even by Disney Monorail, who weren’t vaccinated against measles.
Living in the modern world, a wealth of scientific information is just one click away, and yet some people are effectively making choices based on superstition and mumbo-jumbo.
How could that be? Measles is a viral disease that is pretty bad, and is highly infectious. Approximately 90 percent of unvaccinated people living in a house with someone with measles becomes infected.
Neither Ebola, HIV nor TB have anywhere near that kind of infection rate. Measles is hard to avoid because an infected person spreads the virus for several days before they are even sick.
And sick you are – highlighted by a fever up to 104, cough and head congestion, and a rash all over your body that itches like crazy. Welcome to Dante’s 7th Circle of Hell!
Pneumonia and meningitis are common complications from measles, and otherwise healthy people sometimes die of it. In the past (pre-vaccine days) measles killed hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S.
Unlike smallpox, measles has not been eradicated from the planet; it is still around.
We have had a good and very effective measles vaccine for 40- years, thanks to a guy named Maurice Hilleman, who developed the vaccine. He saved more lives in the 20th century than any other scientist (including doctors).
The MMR vaccine protects us from , , and . And let’s be perfectly clear about this: the measles vaccine has no connection to autism, as some people believe.
That whole theory is based on a totally discredited British Lancet study released in 1998. It was simply bad science and has been proven wrong numerous times. Every scientific organization has renounced this supposed vaccine-autism link.
The MMR/autism link is simply the black glove in the OJ Simpson trial. It’s a distraction and not the truth.
They are now testing two vaccines against Ebola that look pretty promising. That leaves many of us optimistic that we can stop this deadly disease and halt its epidemic nature.
Fortunately, we’ve already found the right vaccine for smallpox, measles, mumps and many other once dangerous diseases. Let’s hope we can add Ebola to the list.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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