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[Column] Measles and fake newsPark Ji-wook Dr. Park’s Neurology Clinic
  • By Park Ji-wook
  • Published 2019.04.16 14:02
  • Updated 2019.04.16 14:03
  • comments 0

Health authorities are having a rough time unexpectedly because of measles that broke out late last year. More than 80 cases were reported as of mid-March. People do not regard measles as a serious disease, but it was not a light ailment as recently as a generation ago.

Measles, which were caught from dogs, are very contagious that once exposed to the virus, 95 percent of people develop an illness. If a group with no immunity is exposed to the measles virus, they might suffer death en masse.

Park Ji-wook, Dr. Park’s Neurology Clinic

Improved human nutrition, advanced disease resistance and widespread vaccination and inoculation have made measles a skippable disease. In recent years, however, the number of measles cases is increasing again — the reason: fake news.

In 1998, a shocking thesis was published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, alleging that measles vaccine is the cause of autism. Andrew J. Wakefield, a British gastrointestinal doctor, maintained that live measles virus that entered human bodies through the vaccine causes autism through enteritis. The prevalence rate of autism was soaring in the late 20th century, and the paper seemed to explain the pandemic of autism.

In fact, autism had long existed before vaccines were developed, and its prevalence rate did not surge in the late 20th century. With the box office success of the film “Rain Man,” however, the public and medical community had come to understand the disorder better and have a higher interest in it beginning to look around. At the same time, the strict standards that had been applied to autism became relaxed, leading to a larger number of children being diagnosed as autistic. Doctors, too, were more eager to find autistic patients.

As advanced countries provide various special education and rehabilitation programs free of charge, doctors diagnosed ambiguous cases as autistic so that their patients could receive help.

The general public, who could not know about the reality, misunderstood that the pandemic of autism was caused by environmental pollution, abuse of chemical substances, antibiotics and vaccines. Notably, the examples of “DDT inoculation-triggered encephalitis” in the 1960s injected a false belief in the public that vaccines caused autism, homosexuality, obesity, dyslexia, ADHD and psychopathy. The public added measles to the list three decades later. Some parents began to refuse the vaccination of their children, and, as a result, immunization rates plummeted across the world. As if on cue, measles started to reappear through the back door.

In 2004, the dissertation was proved fabricated, the Lancet erased it, and Dr. Wakefield was forfeited his medical license. However, all this was not made public widely, and the scare story about vaccines did not die down. The untimely emergence of measles is rooted in groundless fear like neurological disease, including autism.

Measles was a very dreadful disease. In pre-modern Europe, the rage of infectious diseases, such as measles and smallpox killed one-third of the population. In the times of discovering and conquering Americas, measles and smallpox all but demolished aborigines in the New Continent who had no immunity to these epidemics.

In America, too, about 5,300 people died of measles in 1960 when vaccines were not developed yet. Vaccines’ effects were definite, as seen by the steep decline of death since 1963 when the inoculation began. In developing countries where vaccines are in short supply, however, measles is still widespread.

The nation began vaccination of measles in 1965, but the number of patients stood at as high as 5,000 a year in the early 1980s. As the government pushed for the vaccination of measles as a national project, however, the annual outbreaks fell below 100. In the brief rage of measles from 2000-2001, the outbreaks soared to 56,000 and seven of them lost their lives. Afterward, Korea has become a measles-free country as recognized by the World Health Organization but is showing signs of following the global trend as it is surrounded by countries where measles are still rampant.

Measles can reenter the nation and rage at any time. Parents might as well wonder whether it is proper to expose their children to a realistic threat because of a fabricated thesis.

<The writer is a specialist and the director of Dr. Park’s Neurology Clinic on Jeju Island. This column was published in the Kookje Daily News on April 1.>


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