Will measles become the next pandemic? a book review

Diseases that haven’t occurred much in the past 20 years are making a comeback all over the world. And they are largely preventable.

Influenza has arrived in the United States with some areas already experiencing epidemics. We pretty much expect this to happen in the winter despite wide availability of influenza vaccine.

But other diseases that haven’t been seen much in the past 20 years are making a comeback all over the world. The number of measles cases continues to climb, with 5 countries accounting for half of the world’s victims- Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine.

In 2019 the United States almost lost its measles elimination status because of a nearly year-long measles outbreak in New York, with the greatest number of measles cases since 1992. The New York State Department of Health declared the outbreak over in October, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would maintain the country’s elimination status.

And in a part of the world that conjures up images of a tropical island with sunny skies and pristine beaches, Samoan children are dying of measles due to increasingly low vaccination levels, currently only 31%. Over 5,100 measles cases have been reported since the outbreak, with 74 recorded in a recent 24-hour period alone, according to Samoa’s government. 

The low vaccination rate this year was caused in part by distrust of vaccinations that spread last year after two infants died after a vaccine error- nurses incorrectly mixed vaccines with another medicine. The accident compounded the worldwide spread of misinformation about vaccines. 

The anti-vaccination movement made the list of the World Health Organization’s top threats to global health in 2019

CBS NEWS

I don’t know if anyone has suggested it , but it seems we may be entering a pandemic of measles. Here is a review of a book explaining what that means.

Pandemic by Sonia Shah

Sonia Shah , a science journalist, has built a career  writing about medical science. She explains the “what”  of her book in the subtitle-

Tracking contagions from cholera, to Ebola, and beyond

And she answers the “why” in the introduction-

“By telling the stories of new pathogens through the lens of a historical pandemic, I could show both how new pathogens emerge and spread, and how a pathogen that had used the same pathways had already caused a pandemic.”

Let me back up and define some terms.

Pathogen– any disease producing agent, but especially referring to a living  microscopic organism, such as a virus, bacteria, or  parasite; this includes the organisms that cause Lyme disease, Ebola, West Nile, HIV, bird flu, even the common cold

Epidemic– the rapid spread of infectious disease to a large number of people in a given population within a short period of time, usually two weeks or less.

Pandemic– a disease outbreak that spreads throughout a country, continent, or the world, as opposed to an epidemic, which is localized.

map of the world
In a pandemic, an infectious disease may spread all around the world.

Why infectious disease still matters

With healthcare focus on chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia, even physicians can get lulled into thinking that infectious disease has been conquered and no long a serious medical threat. This book reminded me that is not the case.

Ms. Shah recounts the history of cholera, which has caused epidemics on every continent except Antarctica, focussing on the epidemics which devastated London, New York City, and more recently Haiti.

Cholera is rare in the United States now, but in the past it has been deadly here and throughout the world. Cholera, an infection due to a bacteria Vibrio cholerae causes severe uncontrollable diarrhea which quickly renders its victims helpless, dehydrated and critically ill. The bacteria lives in and is spread by contaminated water, but for many years physicians did not know this; and even when some doctors recognized this, others refused to believe it. Thus the opportunity to control it and prevent thousands of deaths was delayed .

bacteria under the microscope
photo of the Vibrio cholera bacteria under a microscope; used courtesy of CDC/ Dr. William A. Clark

how disease spreads

The author explains how cholera and other infectious diseases cause so much human suffering by detailing “How disease spreads” in these  chapter titles.

Locomotion– Humans and pathogens travelling from place to place spreads disease.

Filth-Waste management and in some cases mis-management, leads to contamination of drinking water by human waste.

Crowds-People living in crowded slums creates perfect conditions to spread disease person to person.

Corruption– Public officials and business people who place profit and power above public health.

Blame No one willing to take responsibility for making hard choices, and too willing to blame someone else.

Ms. Shah uses examples from her personal life, like her annual family trips to India to visit relatives who lived in less than clean and sanitary neighborhoods. She also shares her and her sons’ battle with skin infections due to  MRSA, a form of staph (staphylococcal) that is resistant to many antibiotics and can be difficult to eradicate.

Pandemic includes extensive footnotes and a glossary of terms used in the book.

If you like history, current events, medical science, or just want to be more knowledgeable about why we should be concerned about infections , antibiotic resistance and vaccine phobia, you should read this book.

Here are other resources about how infections spread and how they can be stopped

For a visual lesson on how pandemics occur, watch this video.Warning: it is rather graphic. 

“How Pandemics Spread”

created by Mark Honigsbaum and animated by Patrick Blower 

 

When Germs Travel: Six major epidemics that have invaded America since 1900 and the fears they have unleashed

by Howard Markel

“Medical historian and pediatrician Howard Markel, author of Quarantine! tells the story of six epidemics that broke out during the two great waves of immigration to the United States—from 1880 through 1924, and from 1965 to the present—and shows how federal legislation closed the gates to newcomers for almost forty-one years out of fear that these new people would alter the social, political, economic, and even genetic face of the nation.”  (quote from Goodreads)

 At this link read how Dr. Gretchen LaSalle

blows the whistle on anti-vax false claims

an excerpt-

“Vaccines are recommended for personal health and required for the greater good. To protect those who can’t be vaccinated and to preserve the health of our communities, many vaccines are required for school entry. If you choose to participate in the community (ie, attend school), you have a duty not to harm those you come into contact with. And if you can’t make that decision for yourself, sometimes the states have to step in and make that decision for you. But still, you always have the choice to keep your kids out of school. The consequence for you is that you are now in charge of educating your own children. The consequence for your child is that their health is at risk and they are deprived of socialization and interaction with their peers. But, hey. You always have a choice! “

For a review of vaccine preventable diseases read my previous post

Vaccination prevents disease

exploring the HEART of preventing disease through vaccination

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

To start following Watercress Words , use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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The Good Samaritans fighting Ebola

Five years ago the world watched as Africa grappled with a deadly epidemic as the Ebola virus swept through Liberia, infecting hundreds of people, including healthcare workers.

2019-Another Ebola epidemic

Five years ago the world watched as Africa grappled with a Ebola deadly epidemic as the virus swept through Liberia, infecting and killing scores of people, including healthcare workers.

Now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda find themselves in the midst of the second largest Ebola outbreak in history. It began in the DRC last year, and has now spread to Uganda, since the countries share a border and people travel freely between them.

an electron image of the Ebola virus
this colorized transmission electron microscopic (TEM) image revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. credit-CDC/ Frederick A. Murphy, microbiologist, public domain

The 2014 Liberian Epidemic

In 2014, the Ebola virus came to the United States when a volunteer physician working in Liberia contracted the virus and flew home for treatment which proved successful. His illness and recovery from what is usually a fatal disease caught the world’s attention. Here is a summary of the dramatic story.

Dr. Kent Brantly -physician and patient

Dr. Kent Brantly awoke feeling ill- muscle aches, fever, sore throat, headache and nausea. As his condition progressively worsened to include difficulty breathing, he learned the cause of his illness- the Ebola virus. Having spent the past few weeks caring for patients caught up in the Ebola epidemic that swept Liberia in the spring of 2014, Dr. Brantly had contracted the disease himself, and would likely die, as almost all victims do.

Dr. Brantly, a graduate of Indiana University’s School of Medicine, had volunteered to work at ELWA Hospital in Liberia which was receiving aid from Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization. This hospital served as Monrovia’s Ebola treatment center and Dr. Brantly headed the unit.

As his condition deteriorated, his physicians decided his only hope for recovery was use of an experimental drug, ZMapp, previously untested on humans. Since otherwise he was likely to die, he received the drug by infusion into a vein. By the next morning he felt well enough to arise from bed and shower. Unknown to him, thousands of people around the world had been praying for him.

During this time his colleague, nurse Nancy Writebol, was battling her own Ebola infection. She also was treated with ZMapp.

Samaritan’s Purse arranged for both of them to be evacuated to the United States. There, they could continue receiving supportive medical care, as well as allow infectious disease specialists to learn from their conditions. It also would relieve the workload on the doctors who continued to care for Ebola patients at ELWA.

Hear Dr. Brantly describe what it is like to be ill from the Ebola virus.

Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic.

(affiliate link)

An update about Dr. Brantly, July 2019

Five years after contracting the deadly virus in Liberia, the Christian doctor will serve at Mukinge Mission Hospital in Zambia. Read the story here-

Dr. Kent Brantly returns to Africa

It’s not a matter of not fearing. It’s a matter of choosing to have compassion despite fear.

Dr. Kent brantly, christian chronicle.org

The Ebola Fighters

Dr. Brantly and hundreds of other professionals who treated Ebola victims in 2014, the “Ebola fighters”, were named Time magazine’s PERSON of the YEAR for 2014.

Ebola is a war, and a warning. The global health system is nowhere close to strong enough to keep us safe from infectious disease, and “us” means everyone, not just those in faraway places where this is one threat among many that claim lives every day. The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight. 

Nancy Gibbs, TIME magazine
An African doctor viewing xrays and MRI image.
World Medical Mission branch of Samaritan’s Purse serves as a lifeline to dozens of mission hospitals by providing millions of dollars worth of critically needed equipment and supplies.

Samaritan’s Purse

Once again, Samaritan’s Purse is working to contain and stop the Ebola epidemic , now in the DRC.

“Samaritan’s Purse opened an Ebola Treatment Center on Jan. 17 in Komanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to meet the needs of suffering people as this deadly disease continues to spread. We are running the center with dedicated national Congolese staff under the oversight of a small international team.

As of July 2, over 2,300 people in DRC have been infected with Ebola, and 1,586 have died from the disease. Sadly, those numbers continue to rise. The fatality rate of the current Ebola outbreak in DRC is a staggering 67 percent—a rate that is elevated due to ongoing violence and resistance among community members.”

You can help Samaritan’s Purse fight Ebola by donating at the link above or

You can also make a donation by mail. Send to: Samaritan’s Purse, PO Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607

(Neither Dr. Aletha nor this blog are affiliated with Samaritan’s Purse nor compensated for mentioning their work.)

“The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) gives a clear picture of God’s desire for us to help those in desperate need wherever we find them. After describing how the Samaritan rescued a hurting man whom others had passed by, Jesus told His hearers, “Go and do likewise.”

Samaritan’s Purse website

You can read the Good Samaritan story in my previous post at this link

What happens when we stop to help -being a Good Samaritan

sharing the HEART of health

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

To start following Watercress Words , use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn, links are on the left side bar here and the Home page. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha