Thursday, November 23, 2006

Family memories: good and not so good...

I hope yours is a wonderful Thanksgiving. We have family here and my goodness - what a beautiful day! Perfect for stringing up the Christmas lights, and walking off turkey. And sharing family memories.

But then I read about an outbreak of whooping cough in a Chicago school and it triggered some awful memories. My oldest sister got whooping cough (pertussis) in high school and her struggle remains a terrifying part of my childhood. The "whoop" that gives the name is a noise created by a desperate attempt to get air after coughing uncontrollably.

This follows a similar outbreak of mumps in the same general area.

America has decided to depend on artificial immunity to prevent childhood fatalities. But the decision is not quite as simple as that. I wouldn't want anyone to have to go through what my sister did, but is seems to me the effort to eliminate all childhood diseases has left many of our children with less than robust immune systems.

Gaining natural immunity involves considerable risk. Diseases that otherwise are vaccine-preventable can kill or cause permanent disability, such as paralysis from polio, deafness from meningitis, liver damage from hepatitis B, or brain damage (encephalitis) from measles. Immunity from a vaccine offers protection similar to that acquired by natural infection. At the same time, vaccines rarely put individuals at risk of the serious complications of infection.

Some people believe that many of those affected during a disease outbreak are in fact the ones who were previously vaccinated. And they argue that immunity from vaccines isn't effective. It's true that vaccines aren't 100 percent protective. Most childhood vaccines are effective for 85 percent to 95 percent of recipients. During a disease outbreak, a number of vaccinated people will indeed catch the disease. However, those who were immunized usually have a less serious illness, while those not vaccinated are in the greatest danger. [More]

Regardless now there is less choice. Get and keep current your family's vaccinations. Especially your college-age children. Things seem to be transmitted really fast among that age group.

Go figure.

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