Measles spread as parents deliberately infect children

2012-01-09 08:21

Berlin – Measles is on the rise in prosperous Western European countries as many parents opt for natural immunity through deliberately infecting their children.

The virus is spread through droplet infection when the infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. Normally the first symptoms show after 10 to 14 days. The initial indications are relatively mild, taking the form of sniffles, coughing, fever and conjunctivitis.

After a few days the rash typical of the disease appears, with brownish-pink patches on the skin and white spots inside the mouth facilitating confirmed diagnosis of measles in the patient. Statistics indicate that adults older than 20 and children younger than five are most frequently affected.

Opponents of immunisation often try to infect healthy children in a controlled way by holding so-called “measles parties” with an infected child at the focus, intending to provide their own children with life-long immunity.

Measles is described in the internet chat groups set up by vaccination opponents as a “harmless childhood disease”.

They see advantages over vaccination in a “naturally induced infection”.

The medical profession takes a radically different view, insisting that a real measles infection is significantly more dangerous than the vaccination, and in some countries measles parties are illegal, with their organisers prosecuted for causing actual bodily harm.

“I simply can’t understand why a mother would intentionally wish measles on her child,” German paediatrician Katja Schneider says. “Measles is an extremely serious illness that can cause irreparable harm and even be fatal in certain cases.”

Among the most frequent complications are ear and lung infections. Particular attention needs to be paid to the possibility of acute post-infection encephalitis, which occurs in around 0.1% of cases, according to Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

This serious condition reveals itself through severe headaches four to seven days after the rash appears. Other symptoms are fever, confusion and drowsiness to the extent of coma. One in every 1 000 to 5 000 measles patients will contract encephalitis, which is fatal in between 10 and 20% of cases.

An extremely rare but usually fatal complication resulting from measles is subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, which attacks the entire central nervous system.

According to Schneider, a mother of three, the risks of dangerous side-effects resulting from immunisation are relatively low.

“Immunisation against measles is strongly to be recommended,” she says. The paediatrician says that concern regarding the effects of immunisation is valid only in the most unusual cases and parents should heed the advice of their paediatricians in this regard.

Alternative medicine practitioners are in general not opposed to immunisation “in principle”.

Christoph Trapp of the German association of homeopathic doctors in Berlin believes that the decision whether to immunise should be taken case by case by a homeopathic doctor.

The association takes the view that immunisation can “prevent infectious diseases to a certain extent and also cut the risk of catching the disease for those people who have not been immunised”.

An association of doctors promoting patient discretion in deciding whether to immunise said in a statement that serious adverse reactions with temporary or permanent effects can occur, although only in rare cases. It was responding to a public debate in Germany on whether to make immunisation compulsory.

The association takes the view that parents are confronted with an increasing number of recommended vaccinations, without being informed fully by medical professionals and health authorities. “If a discussion with the parents leads to their rejecting certain vaccinations for their children, the doctor involved sometimes refuses to continue to treat them,” it says on its website.

There is a considerable variation across Europe, with Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands having high immunisation and low death rates, while Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland have lower rates of immunisation and correspondingly more deaths.

Schneider is a firm advocate of a thoroughgoing immunisation programme like that in the United States where the disease has all but been wiped out.

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