“In May of 1874 I removed to Virginia City, Nevada, where the sewage of the city ran in an open flume under the sidewalk, and many times the odor was so unpleasant that people had to take the middle of the street,” wrote John Manson in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine in March 1910. “The consequence was that we had diphtheria all the time.”
Improved methods of sewage disposal sharply reduced diphtheria, but it still persisted. Fortunately a vaccine was developed early in the 20th century. French biologist Gaston Ramon developed a vaccine that deactivated diphtheria toxin using formaldehyde.
By our lifetimes, diphtheria was being effectively eradicated in industrial nations. By the end of the 20th century, the number of cases in the United States had dropped into two digits. In 2003, two cases were reported. So it is dismaying news that diphtheria is staging a comeback, and among adults, at that.
“The baffling part is that 95 percent the diphtheria cases reported from January 2009 are those of adults, who were inoculated during their childhood,” reported India daily newspaper the Hindu.
And diphtheria is not the only one.
It’s not often that the consequences of ignorance can be shown definitively, but the Council on Foreign Relations has created a world map that does just that. The map shows the growth of cerebrospinal meningitis, chicken pox, cholera, diphtheria, rotavirus measles, mumps, polio, rubella, whooping cough, mumps, streptococcus suis and other lethal-but-preventable maladies in every nation, on every continent.
In Nevada, it’s whooping cough that is rising. The Tdap vaccine can protect against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. “Diphtheria has been nearly eliminated in the United States, and tetanus has become fairly rare, with about 30 or 40 documented cases a year,” reported The New York Times recently. “But pertussis, aka whooping cough, is surging in most states, an unwelcome comeback that makes vaccination much more urgent.”
And it’s not just children who are at risk. Adults are neglecting to get booster shots to protect themselves. Whooping cough kills nearly 300,000 people a year. In Utah, it’s measles.
“It took some remarkable medical breakthroughs to end those days, and it may take some remarkable ignorance on the part of parents to bring them back,” wrote Jay Evensen of Utah’s church-owned Deseret News a few days ago. “Dr. Andrew Wakefield is living proof that it is much easier to plant irrational fears in the hearts of the public than it is to erase them. His 1998 study, published in a British medical journal, found links between vaccines and autism in children. But later it was determined he had outright falsified the data concerning all 12 subjects of his study and that, in fact, there is no link (something subsequent studies have confirmed). And yet the fears and conspiracy theories persist, and years of improvements in public health are at stake.”
Wakefield’s imitation science was picked up by distinguished scientists such as Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who spread the pack of lies that has driven vaccination down to dangerous levels.
Surviving members of the “greatest generation” are appalled. They are the parents who breathed a massive sigh of relief when we baby boomers, their children, were saved from the threat of polio in the 1950s. They lived through decades when one vaccine after another stamped out killers. The death rate from measles, for instance, dropped from about 30 percent in the early 20th century to less than a single percent in the early 21st century.
Now, because of folk wisdom and “experts” who embrace information that supports their claims and reject information that does not, the incidence of all these maladies is increasing.
No one makes parents listen to these charlatans and fools. The accurate and reliable information is there for those willing to receive it and discerning enough to separate it from the fakelore.
Our parents tried hard to do everything possible to protect us from disease. Too many of today’s parents try hard to expose their children to disease.
Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.