Monday, June 2, 2014
More than a Little Rash
Remember when they told us that diseases like polio and measles were “eradicated”? Well folks, they’re baaaack! And they are threatening us all in a globally-linked world where a short airplane ride can transport traveler and the traveler’s less-than-obvious infectious disease to a new and unprepared country. Suspicions of foreigners with needles – especially where such medical aid has been coopted by C.I.A. operatives in the past – make treatment difficult, not to mention how crowded refugee camps and migrating fleeing civilians in heavy conflict zones make preventative medicine an almost unobtainable goal.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled the recent resurgence of polio in combat-heavy nations like Syria and Pakistan a public health emergency. “‘It’s really attributed to two things. One is the spread out of Pakistan through the intense transmission there because of the suspension of the vaccine in one area,’ Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian physician and WHO’s assistant director-general of polio, told CBC News. ‘And then combined with an increase in vulnerability of some highly unstable areas like Syria where it’s been able to get another foothold.’
“The agency described current polio outbreaks across at least 10 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as an ‘extraordinary event’ that required a coordinated international response. It identified Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon as having allowed the virus to spread beyond their borders, and recommended that those three governments require citizens to obtain a certificate proving they have been vaccinated for polio before travelling abroad.
“In February, the WHO found that polio had also returned to Iraq, where it spread from neighbouring Syria. It is also circulating in Afghanistan (where it spread from Pakistan) and Equatorial Guinea (from neighbouring Cameroon) as well as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.” BBC.co.uk, May 6th. Remember those foreigners with needles? Well not only have some groups (like the Taliban) banned such professionals from administering inoculations, they have actually executed medical teams trying to save lives with those preventative treatments.
“Two years ago, the Taliban placed a ban in the area, saying it would stay in place until the U.S. military ended its drone strikes… ‘Almost every resident of North Waziristan has become a mental patient because of the drone strikes, which are worse than polio,’ the Taliban said in a statement two years ago, according to CNN. ‘On one hand, the U.S. spends millions of dollars to eliminate polio, while on the other hand it kills hundreds with the help of its slave, Pakistan.’.. Many in that area have become suspicious of polio workers who go door to door vaccinating children, believing that logistical information is being gathered for drone strikes.” BBC. And without containment, these diseases threaten to carry infections well beyond these strife-torn borders.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., the potential for a resurgence of a “contained” disease – measles – is growing by the day. “The ongoing measles outbreak in the United States has reached a record for any year since the disease was considered eliminated nearly 15 years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced [May 29th], with 288 cases of the potentially deadly infection in 18 states.
“The largest measles clusters are in Ohio (138 confirmed cases), California (60) and New York (26), according to the CDC. Almost all — 97 percent — have been brought into the country by travelers, mainly Americans, who contracted the disease abroad. About half of those were people who picked up the disease in the Philippines, where a large measles outbreak has affected more than 20,000 people since October of 2013, causing dozens of deaths… In this country, the biggest outbreak is centered in the Amish community in Ohio, where many of the residents are unvaccinated, the CDC reported.
“Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease that generally affects young children, causing fever, a runny nose, a cough and a distinctive rash all over the body. About one in 10 children also gets an ear infection and one in 20 comes down with pneumonia. A person with measles is contagious as long as four days before the symptoms are apparent. Parents and even physicians who haven’t seen measles in years may be unaware of the early warning signs.” Washington Post, May 29th.
Oh, and then there is the “backlash against science” in our own backyard; a huge trend of warnings from misguided doomsayers, guilt-ridden celebrities, and stupidly dangerous bloggers all taking aim at mythical mystery-toxins supposedly lurking in the routine vaccinations that have protected us so reliably for decades. These science-deniers spread rumors that scare parents into keeping hundreds of thousands of children from getting basic protections. As a result, diseases we thought we had virtually eradicated are now returning with a vengeance.
So what can we do? First, we need to protect ourselves, making sure that we have all the current inoculations for these diseases. Second, as we travel, we need make sure we have all the relevant shot recommended for the regions we are traveling too as recommended by WHO. After returning from a trip, we need to be conscious of any form of discomfort or symptoms of any illness, no matter how minor it may seem. Contact with those who have returned from challenged regions also needs to be monitored. Finally, we need to make sure that we are fully supportive of WHO and its parallel organizations in preventing disease wherever it can be found.
I’m Peter Dekom, and when it comes to health, making sure the obvious bases are covered just makes common sense.