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Misguided Parents Put Kids at Risk in Mumps Outbreak

Copyright 2006 Mike Patrick Jr, MD Mumps is sweeping the Midwest with the speed of a California wildfire. Doctors have diagnosed a thousand cases of the viral disease, and there's no end in sight. Those most at risk for severe disease in the outbreak are adults with waning immunity and unvaccinated children. Adult cases are understandable. After all, immunity from vaccination can decline over time. The involvement of unvaccinated children, on the other hand, is inexcusable.

Free MMR vaccine is available to every American child at local Health Departments, and moms and dads who fail to get it for their children should spend an afternoon in the public stocks with "bad parent of the year" signs hung around their necks. Vaccines are becoming victims of their own success. Today's parent doesn't remember the day when measles and diphtheria killed thousands of American children. They weren't around when polio paralyzed a generation. They didn't witness the miracle of Dr.

Jonas Salk's polio vaccine. In those days parents clamored to get their kids immunized, and thousands of children were spared a lifetime of metal braces and wheelchairs. Today's parent doesn't exactly clamor for vaccines. Instead, she approaches them with reluctance and fear because of ranting quasi-scientists and militant moms who blame childhood vaccines for little Bobby's autism. The MMR-autism flap began in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British bowel specialist, conducted a chart review of twelve patients. Really, I'm not making this up. Twelve patients. Based on that chart review, Dr Wakefield concluded that MMR causes intestinal inflammation, which leads to "leaky bowel," which allows harmful toxins to enter the body. These toxins then travel to the brain and cause autism.

Since every autistic child in the developed world had received an MMR vaccine and since autism is most commonly diagnosed between the first and second birthdays, around the time of the MMR, many parents of autistic children clung to the report like a colony of mold on old bread. Never mind that the United Kingdom Medical Research Council condemned Dr. Wakefield's report. Never mind that other medical researchers from around the globe found fault with his research methods. Never mind that subsequent well-designed statistically significant studies failed to show any link between MMR and autism. These stricken parents had found what they wanted--a reason. So now many parents fear the MMR vaccine, and some downright refuse it. They'll put their children in a speeding automobile a median's throw away from a twenty-ton eighteen-wheeler rocketing in the opposite direction. They'll let their children ride in an airplane traveling 500 miles-per-hour at an elevation of 35,000 feet. They'll allow their children to swim unattended and ride bicycles without helmets and get on slapped-together carnival rides run by a guy sporting more tattoos than teeth, but they won't get the MMR vaccine.

It's too risky. After all, Dr. Wakefield looked at twelve kids, and those militant moms--the ones who don't want you vaccinating your children--agree with him. Perhaps the current mumps outbreak will begin to change this misguided attitude. I guess mumps is as good a start as any. It's an uncomfortable disease, but rarely fatal. You get headache and fever and painfully swollen salivary glands under the jaw. Ovaries and testicles can swell. Every now and then deafness results, or the brain swells. But for most, it's a walk in the park compared to other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The results of a widespread measles outbreak would be worse, and if diphtheria or polio ever raise their ugly heads, it will be tragic. If you are one of those worried parents who haven't vaccinated your children, please give it another thought. Talk to your child's doctor. Sure, there may be some risk with immunizations, the most common being allergic reaction, but the benefit far exceeds the risk. If you still disagree with me, that's fine. Don't get the MMR. Don't get any vaccines. But maybe you should also keep your children out of cars and airplanes. And please, oh please, don't get them anywhere near those carnival rides.


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