Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Diminishing Health Risks

"These children have been put at risk by the parents. You can't not immunize your kid and think, 'Oh, if they get sick our health-care system will fix them.' You can't fix measles encephalitis [inflammation and swelling of the brain that can cause bleeding in the brain and brain damage]'. You can't undo it. What don't they understand?"
"All the people around those communities need to know that they for sure need to have their kids immunized, because those people are putting their kids at risk."
Dr. Noni MacDonald, Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, professor of pediatrics, Dalhousie University, Halifax
Help Your Body Help Itself
Ontario Ministry of Health

"This is unusual because measles is relatively rare in Canada thanks to high immunization rates across the country. However, despite this, Canada continues to see measles cases related to countries where measles is widely circulating."
"The challenge is in the pockets of unimmunized that are more prone to outbreaks, and the risk of importation by travellers who are not fully immunized."
"Outbreaks can occur at anytime, anywhere. Getting vaccinated is the single most effective measure for preventing measles."
Sylwia Krzyszton, public health agency spokeswoman
The latest Childhood National Immunization Coverage Survey completed during 2011-12 concludes that vaccination coverage for measles, rubella, mumps and polio are at, or above the target coverage of 95%, according to Ms. Krzyszton. There are destinations that Canadians travel to, however, whose immunity record is virtually non-existent. Canadians travelling to countries like the Philippines just happen to bring the virus back with them, and have the potential for infecting others.

As has occurred just recently in Ottawa, when one child whose family had recently returned from a visit to the Philippines, infected one of his primary-school classmates. And soon afterward, another child was discovered to have been infected, as well. At one time, contracting measles, chickenpox, mumps and other 'childhood diseases' were extremely common in Canada. That was before the advent of serums discovered to offer immunity.

In the 1960s, before vaccines were introduced, 300,000 to 400,000 cases of measles developed among the nation's children each year in Canada. These were seen to be ordinary events, and for most people they represented nothing more than transitory inconveniences, coping with sick children until the event passed and they could be declared in good health once again, resuming normal activities. Most people had no idea that such an 'ordinary' virus as measles infection could result in death.

Now, the Public Health Agency of Canada reminds people of their obligation to their children, that failure to observe it represents an ignorance of the fact that measles can be fatal. According to Dr. Noni MacDonald, parents who refuse to vaccinate their own children are not only placing their children potentially in harm's way, but they are impinging on the safety and health-security of other peoples' children.

Those in particular who remain unvaccinated for a very sound medical reason. A small minority of children cannot be vaccinated for health reasons of their own. Such as those with immune deficiencies, or children undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Several incidents of measles have popped up in Ottawa, and one in Toronto, all linked to travel to the Philippines which is itself in the midst of a widespread measles outbreak.

In British Columbia an outbreak of measles began at Mount Cheam Christian School which has had a traditionally low immunization rate in contrast with Canada's generally high rates of immunization compliance. The B.C. measles outbreak has spread beyond the school in Chilliwack and into the community close by, and now close to one hundred people are thought to have contracted the virus.

Photo: Mother and children on an airplane.
One of the best ways to protect children from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases is to vaccinate them on time. Check your child's medical records to see if he or she is up to date on vaccination / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The United States has experienced some of its highest levels of such cases since the virus was virtually eliminated in 2000. 189 were reported to have contracted the disease in 2001, three times the rates normally seen in a year. Last week alone, 16 cases, nine in children were confirmed in the New York boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx.

The urgency in alerting the public lies in the fact that measles represents one of the most contagious viral illness known to medical science. It can cause blindness, brain swelling and severe respiratory infections in severe instances. The four provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario have confirmed 24 cases since the beginning of 2014.

Most schools require children registered to attend to have their parents provide the school administration with a record of their periodic medical immunizations. In most schools this is a pre-requisite for enrolment, although exceptions are recognized for medical reasons or when religious doctrine forbids the practise.

As with most immunization, herd immunity is vital; to ensure that enough people are vaccinated so that the opportunities for random viral infections becomes low enough to protect that minority that is not vaccinated. When the threshhold for vaccinations rises to a dangerous level where not enough people have been immunized against infection, outbreaks occur to threaten a larger population.

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