The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the simple fact that Americans must use wisdom and common sense as well as the benefits of science to truly be free of diseases that can be prevented. The science is available to prevent numerous serious diseases, but there are too many people who lack the wisdom and common sense because they believe the wrong people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the smallpox virus (officially known as variola virus) was around for thousands of years before it was eradicated in 1980. It would break out from time to time to cause illness and death. I was a young child in 1949 when the United States had its “last natural outbreak of smallpox.” I remember standing in line at an elementary school to receive my smallpox vaccination. I was one of the people who celebrated when the World Health Assembly declared in 1980 that smallpox was officially eliminated. I am grateful to know that there have been “no cases of naturally occurring smallpox” since then. Even though smallpox has officially been eradicated from the earth, research continues in the United States to develop “vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic tests to protect people against smallpox” in case terrorists try to use it as a weapon of mass destruction. Many people in my generation have big round scars – maybe half an inch in diameter -- on their upper arm as a result of vaccination. That scar is much better than the disfiguring scars of the actual disease.
Pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough, is “a highly contagious respiratory disease … caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.” It is “known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe.” I remember having whooping cough when I was in the first grade and the whooping sound that I made. My siblings and I missed six weeks of school and church meetings in an effort to keep it from spreading further. It is a terrible disease! I remember that my mother was afraid to let us have popcorn because she was afraid that we would inhale it into our lungs. We all survived the disease, but our school work suffered. I remember that I went from the top reading group in the class to a much lower one. A vaccination was developed by the time that I had children, so none of my children suffered from whooping cough.
Rubella, also known as German measles, is another contagious disease caused by a virus. I had a mild case of it when I was a child. Its symptoms “include a low-grade fever, sore throat, and a rash that stars on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.” It is not too dangerous except for pregnant women who may miscarry or deliver a baby with serious birth defects. The best defense against rubella is vaccination.
I had mumps after I was married. “Mumps is a contagious disease that is caused by a virus.” It usually “starts with fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite.” Then the salivary glands usually swell, causing the cheeks to swell and the jaw to be tender and swollen. It can cause inflammation in sexual organs of both males and females, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), meningitis (inflammation of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord), and deafness. My older siblings had it before I was born, and my younger siblings had it after I left home. It seems that I missed about two weeks of work. My glands were swollen but not too painful. Mumps is now preventable by vaccine.
Measles is another serious infectious disease caused by a virus. “Measles starts with fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat. It’s followed by a rash that spreads over the body. Measles is highly contagious and spreads through coughing and sneezing.” I do not believe that I had this disease as a child, but I know other people who did. They had to stay in a dark room because any light hurt their eyes.
Measles is a “common disease in many parts of the world.” Anyone who travels internationally without protection can become infected. There are current outbreaks of measles in New York State and Washington State. It is sad that we now have outbreaks in our nation because measles was officially eliminated from the United States in 2000. This means that there had been an “absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area. Measles is no longer endemic (constantly present) in the United States. This was accomplished because the U.S. “has a highly effective measles vaccine, a strong vaccination program that achieves high vaccine coverage in children, and strong public health system for detecting and responding to measles cases and outbreaks.”
The best way to prevent measles is vaccination, but false science causes many problems. In 1998 Andrew Wakefield and twelve colleagues published material suggesting that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may cause autism. Parents were frightened and stopped vaccinating their children. Wakefield’s claims were refuted almost immediately by epidemiological studies, but the damage was already done. The current measles epidemic is one result of the fraudulent report. Another result is the distrust of the American people towards science and the medical field.
Tuberculosis (TB) is another disease that was in steady decline for more than two decades, but the rate of decline is too slow to eradicate it. TB is “caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The bacteria usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria becomes sick. As a result, two TB-related conditions exist: latent TB infection (LTBI) and TB disease. If not treated properly, TB disease can be fatal.” There is a vaccine for TB, but it is not used much in the United States. However, children, youth, and other Americans should be tested for TB.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, was another dreaded disease of my childhood. It is a “crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease” caused by the poliovirus. It “spreads from person to person and can invade an infected person’s brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis.” One of my childhood friends had polio and wore a brace from his waist, down his legs, and under his foot. I can still see him running across the field with his stiff leg, which did not seem to slow him down. I saw him at our fiftieth class reunion. He was no longer wearing a brace, but he did have a limp. I remember when the first vaccine for polio came out when I was about ten years old. I remember standing in line at school to receive it. We were all deathly afraid that we would get it, and our parents would not allow us to swim in ponds in fear that we would catch polio. The U.S. has been polio free since 1979, but it is still a threat in other nations.
Diphtheria is another serious disease, but I do not personally know anyone who has had it. It is “an infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria. It causes a thick covering in the back of the throat” and “can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death. It can be prevented by vaccine.
The truth is that vaccinations save thousands of lives. A two-shot series of MMR will protect a person for life from measles, mumps, and rubella for life. The DPT shot will protect from diphtheria and pertussis for life, but tetanus is a vaccination that must be repeated about every ten years. Polio can now be prevented, and TB can be treated. There is no reason why anyone should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, or polio because they can be prevented. We can be totally free from them!