Measles…here it comes again

vaccine

Just when we thought it was out, they pulled it back in. Yes, it looks like the childhood disease measles is on the rise again in the United States. According to recent updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2008;57:893-896) 131 cases of measles occurred from January-July 2008, the highest year-to-date number of measles cases in the United States since 1996.

Of these 131 cases, 91% were persons who were unvaccinated or who had an unknown vaccination status. 123 were US residents, including 80% under age 20; 112 were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status; 95 of these 112 (85%) were eligible for vaccination, and 63 of these 95 (66%) were unvaccinated because of philosophical or religious beliefs.

The only way people are protected from diseases such as measles is when the population achieves herd immunity. The more individuals vaccinated in a population, the lower the chances of coming in contact with an infected person. For measles, herd immunity requires about 85-90% of individuals be successfully vaccinated in order to protect those with weakened immune systems, kids too young to be vaccinated or the fringe groups who refuse to see the obvious benefits of being vaccinated.

Thinking getting measles isn’t so bad? Harmless spots, no?  In the United States prior to the availability of the vaccine in the mid-1960’s, an average of 450 people died from measles and about 4000 developed measles encephalitis annually.  No, that’s not just a coupla polka dots.

Yeah, but you’re figuring you don’t have to vaccinate your kids as long as most of the rest of us do, right? They’ll be protected by the herd, right? Are your kids ever going to leave the country to travel? Will they come in contact with other people who have traveled abroad? Of course. Protection cannot be expected in this manner.

Bottome line: please ensure your kids have received the recommended childhood vaccinations according to current guidelines and make sure anyone who is travelling is up-to-date on their measles vaccination. Oh, and if you’re thinking of not vaccinating your child, please discuss this thoroughly with at least two pediatricians — chances are your logic for doing so is faulty and a second opinion for making such a potentially dangerous decision to your child’s welfare is surely warranted.

Is It Raining Autism? Another Fact or Crap Article.

rainfall

This has got to be fake, right? Could children living in high-precipitation areas be more likely to have autism? Sure, like people living near volcanoes are more likely to be bald. Oh, I see the connection….not. There couldn’t possibly be a link. Or could there be?

According to preliminary study results from an article published in November (2008) Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine there appears to be a connection between the wet stuff and the disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.

The study performed by Cornell University researchers focused on California, Washington, and Oregon. They obtained autism prevalence rates for children born between 1987 and 1999 and calculated average annual precipitation by county. They also computed the autism rates in relation to the average annual precipitation in the counties when the children were younger than 3.

Counties that received relatively large amounts of precipitation had a relatively high rate of autism. For example, counties with four times as much precipitation had an autism rate that was twice as high as other counties in the region even after correcting for other factors like socioeconomic status.

Of course the findings may have nothing to do with the rainfall or snow itself, but rather factors associated with the precipitation, such as the need to stay indoors more.   Environmental possibilities related to spending more time indoors include chemical exposure to cleaning products, TV viewing, or vitamin D deficiency from too little sunlight.

In the past 30 years, the rates of autism have increased from about one in 2,500 children to one in 150. Some of the increase is attributed to a broadened definition of autism and the autistic spectrum, and an increased sensitivity in the ability to make the diagnosis. Linkages of autism to vaccination have failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny.  The possibility still exists that autism involves an interaction of genetics and environmental factors and luckily, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a long-term study to find the causes of autism and other childhood conditions.

Could it be that chemicals in the atmosphere are transported to the surface by the rain and fall to the Earth affecting our children?  Sure.  But by no means should the findings of this study be taken as a reason to skip town with autistic kids in tow heading for a new life in the desert. The results are not definitive evidence of a precipitation-autism link or any other link for that matter. They are, however, consistent with a hypothesis, and further research focused on establishing whether a connection exists is warranted.

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