Vail Daily column: Start by washing your hands
Measles, virtually eradicated more than a decade ago, is back in the news. Along with mumps, whooping cough/pertussis, polio and smallpox, it used to be one of the scourges of childhood. By the end of the 20th century vaccines rendered these diseases rare in the United States. However, they still wreak havoc in less developed countries. According to the World Health Organization, “Approximately 145,700 people died from measles in 2013 — mostly children under the age of 5.” It could have been worse. WHO reports “measles vaccination resulted in a 75 percent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.”
The overall vaccination rate in America exceeds 90 percent. However, there are clusters of low vaccination rate communities in surprisingly affluent, educated neighborhoods.
Vaccines have saved tens of millions of lives and made childhood immeasurably safer and more survivable. What is contributing to the low vaccination rate in communities where access to medical care is not the issue? Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, dubbed anti-vaxxers, are often motivated by distrust of government and the pharmaceutical industry and the desire to live more natural, chemical- and toxin-free lives. A discredited report linking a now discontinued preservative in the MMR vaccine (thimerosal) to autism gave credence to parents’ suspicions about the safety of vaccines.
The Centers for Disease Control readily admits that vaccines often do have side effects. However, those side effects, such as a rash or fever, are typically mild and resolve within a matter of days. Serious side effects from vaccines do happen but are much less common. For example, serious allergic reaction to the MMR vaccine occurs in less than one out of a million doses.
The shifting landscape of the culture wars revealed new adversaries over the past few months pitting parents who vaccinate versus those who do not. Vaxxers smugly describe the anti-vaxxers variously as selfish, stupid or ignorant. They accuse the anti-vaxxers of turning their children into walking time bombs. They also accuse them of child abuse by leaving their children vulnerable to preventable childhood diseases.
However, are those same vaxxers themselves viral?
I am referring to the misery the common cold and influenza inflict on millions of Americans every year. The flu kills a fair number of people as well. According to the CDC, “Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 annually.” Furthermore, 80 children have died thus far from flu during the 2014-15 flu season.
A University of Michigan study reported in the Chicago Tribune attempted to quantify the economic impact of the common cold. According to Dr. A. Mark Fendrick, the lead author of the study, “Cold sufferers visit the doctor more than 100 million times each year at a cost of at least $7.7 billion. But the biggest economic cost was in lost workdays.” According to the study, “parents miss an average of 126 million workdays to care for their sick children and they miss 70 million more because they are sick.” The estimated economic toll comes to $22.5 billion a year.
More than 160 years since Dr. Ignaz Semmelweiss made the connection between hand disinfection and puerperal, or childbed fever, some modern men and women refuse to believe germ theory applies to them. ABC News reports that the American Society for Microbiology conducted surveys in five American cities to see who is washing up after using the facilities. They found that “67 percent of people washed with soap and water and then dried their hands. The cleanest people were in Chicago, where 83 percent washed, followed by 80 percent in San Francisco and 64 percent in New Orleans and Atlanta. Women were generally more likely than men to wash.” Way to perpetuate a stereotype, dudes.
Other than getting the flu vaccine, the No. 1 precaution everyone can take to reduce the spread of disease is to wash their hands. Warm water, soap, 20 seconds and you have done your part to not be a menace to society.
For further incentive to wash, I regret to inform you my kids are ratting you out. You have been warned. Just to be clear, I did not ask them to do this. But lately my daughter has been emerging from public restrooms sadly shaking her head. This is followed by her morosely intoning that she has observed something “really, really gross.” What follows is a run down of who washed properly, who ineffectually used only water and those dangerous, irresponsible and disgusting women who did not bother to wash at all.
Anti-vaxxers are sadly misguided, but before you cast the first stone, go wash your hands.
Claire Noble is the author of “State-Sponsored Sex and Other Tales of International Misadventure.” She can be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @thehkhousewife.