Yet Another Reason to Immunize Alert
Today’s YARTI alert is brought to you by diphtheria. Yes, diphtheria, that disease about which many people have apparently forgotten. In all of this insane yammering about how the pertussis vaccine doesn’t work (it does), we tend to overlook the other diseases against which the DTaP or TDap vaccine protect–diphtheria and tetanus. A recent story from India should remind both of us yet again that a deadly disease such as diphtheria is only a plane ride away.
Before we get to this story, I highly recommend that you subscribe to the ProMED mailing list, which provides daily updates of disease outbreaks around the world. The reporting is sparse and to-the-point, and can be more absorbing than you latest copy of Entertainment Weekly. Yesterday’s issue brought diphtheria to the forefront of my thinking when I read that 5 children–none vaccinated–have died in India from the disease. These children did not have access to healthcare and were not able to receive the lifesaving vaccination, despite Herculean efforts by the Indian government to maintain protective vaccine coverage. Diphtheria rarely rears its hideous head in developed countries these days, but once again, the anti-vaxxers are busily beavering away and putting out the welcome mat for its return.
So why should we be concerned about diphtheria, if the story above is not enough to worry you? The CDC offers an excellent overview, but in short, it is a bacterial illness that can cause airway obstruction, which as you have guessed can result in a terrifying death. The case fatality rate for diphtheria is highest in children under five years of age, where it may reach 20%. In addition to this information, I have an anecdote to share. Yes, reader, an anecdote.
Anti-vaxxers love to go on and on about how their grandparents didn’t get “hardly any” vaccinations and yet they are still alive! How can this be? Well, the answer is that they were damned lucky. All of us alive today had grandparents who were lucky. My maternal grandmother, who is 97 years old, recently shared a story with me about diphtheria, and her incredulity that people wouldn’t run to get a vaccine for it. You may very well read the following story and imagine it in sepia tones, to which I say: don’t. It could happen again, and it will happen again if the anti-science movements continue to spread lies and misinformation.
When my grandmother was a little girl, diphtheria swept through her neighborhood. Children died in the houses on either side of her, but luckily she was spared. It has been 90 years, and like all people who live to their 90s, my grandma has been through a lot, including having a husband who was deployed in the Pacific throughout the majority of WWII. Yet she recalls the loss of her dear friends and schoolmates with both clarity and despair. And she leaves us with a poignant question: Whose grandparents would they have been?
Now go get your dangnabbed vaccination.