Thursday, May 23, 2019

Preventable Diseases

I'm not sure how many of you are keeping up with the news. I like to check at least a half-dozen US-based news sources every day, then cross reference their reports with a few foreign news sources like the BBC, Deutche Welle (DW), and Russian Times (RT). This habit comes from my years of working nights with a short-wave radio for entertainment (there was no internet back then and TVs weren't allowed). There's a lot of messed up things going on right now, but the one that is troubling me the most is the rapid spread of preventable diseases.

In the Congo, an African nation hard hit by Ebola in 2014, doctors and aid workers are being killed while they try to stem a new outbreak of that nasty virus which has already killed 1,100 people. Due to the prevailing cultural norm of keeping the dead in the family home until burial, the outbreak in 2014 wiped out entire families and villages. That has changed some, but there are “radical” groups who are claiming that the aid workers who are trying to stop the spread are actually the cause of the outbreak. This has led to the harassment and assault of the people trained to fight outbreaks and infected people avoiding the care-givers until it's too late. The fact that the outbreak is occurring in the middle of a civil war isn't helping things; people are being displaced and fighters are moving around, which is increasing the rate of spread while also making tracking cases much harder. The good news is that a vaccine has been developed that may help if it can be successfully deployed.

Malaria is a problem in a wide swath of the world. Thankfully, the breeds of mosquitoes that carry it don't survive the winters I get to enjoy, but some of you may be living in areas that are breeding grounds for the little biting terrors. There are two new vaccines in the works right now for malaria, which is encouraging. Because of the way the disease works a vaccine for it has been difficult to develop, and I'm hoping that at least one of them works. You can thank the tree-huggers of the 1960s for getting the best way to kill mosquitoes (DDT) pulled off the market and thereby leading to millions of human deaths.

Measles has come back to the US. We had this one beat, with the CDC declaring it extinct in the US in 2000. With the increase in international travel and the influx of illegal immigrants, measles has been reintroduced to a nation with an entire generation that has no history of dealing with it. Major outbreaks in Israel, the Ukraine, and the Philippines seem to be the sources, with pockets of unvaccinated people here being hit hard.

Polio is another one of the “dead” diseases that may be making a come-back. The last naturally-caused case of polio in the US was in 1979. It still exists in certain research labs and is still active in parts of Asia and the Middle East, but a world-wide campaign spanning 25 years almost wiped it out. Now we're seeing reports of a “polio-like” disease popping up in areas of the US. Polio is a nasty virus that attacks the nervous system, I've known survivors of it, and it can mess up your life if it doesn't kill you.

With the degradation of societal norms I'm seeing reports of, I expect to see a return or rise in the number of cases of the diseases we wiped out through proper waste management. Having people defecating in the streets and leaving contaminated needles laying around is just asking for the return of cholera, typhus, and hepatitis. The various sexually transmitted diseases are trending up in certain areas as well. These are all easily prevented diseases, but it takes everyone playing by the same rules to keep them at bay.

In my opinion, if you don't get vaccinated for the easily preventable diseases absent a valid health problem, you're not prepared for life on this planet. I know there are immune-depressed people who can't get some vaccines, but the rabid anti-vaccination crowd is putting everyone at risk. Viruses mutate; that's how they cross species. Having a pool of live viruses around increases the risk that they can mutate into a form that our current vaccines won't stop. Those who are too young or too ill to get the vaccines are put at risk, and even if the diseases stay within the unvaccinated group, it creates a drain on the resources of the community around them.

I also know that not all vaccines are safe for everyone, which is why I put in the caveat about a valid health reason. Some of the newer ones haven't been tested to the extent that they should be, and I'm old enough to remember some of medicine's failures like the Thalidomide debacle of the 1960's. The tried and true Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine is a basic first step. Tetanus, polio, and diphtheria/pertussis are other common vaccines that are old enough to be trusted.

Having visited some foreign countries and being exposed to various other potential disease sources, I've had more needles stuck in me than I can remember. If your preps include living in conditions that are less than modern or in proximity to potential disease carriers, I strongly recommend getting the vaccines that you feel are safe. 

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