There have been over 1,000 confirmed cases of the virus known as “mumps” in Hawaii this year, the largest outbreak in decades. The illness generally causes flu-like symptoms but uniquely causes the salivary glands in the jaw on one or both sides to massively swell. Serious complications can occur such as massive testicular swelling in males (which has been shown to increase the risk of developing testicular cancer and infertility), deafness, and swelling of the brain. The fortunate thing about this disease is that it is entirely preventable by childhood immunizations via the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine. The unfortunate thing is that anti-vaccination rhetoric is leading many to not immunize their children and this is especially true in Hawaii. One doesn’t need a doctorate in epidemiology to see an association. The CDC is urging folks in the islands to get the MMR vaccine if you are not immune and if infected to stay home from work and school until healthy.
When it comes to medicine and health, ignorance is not always bliss. It can lead to fear, anger, and sometimes death. In 1904, a smallpox epidemic was threatening the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro, hospitalizing 1,800 people. In an effort to thwart the spread of the horrible illness that causes mind crushing headaches, vomiting, pustules to develop all over the body, and possibly a slow agonizing death, the government issued a mandatory vaccination decree for all of the city. The people, fearful of a government conspiracy, revolted and violent clashes erupted leading to strikes, barricades, and even shootings. As a result, the government suspended the obligatory immunization policy. However, four years later in 1908, the smallpox virus reared its ugly head and killed roughly 9,000 people, leading people to rush in masses to vaccination clinics around Rio.
This historical anecdote is not unlike the current state of affairs due to anti-vaccination rhetoric. Rigorous scientific studies have shown time and again that immunizations are safe, do not cause autism, serious complications like a severe allergic reaction are rare, and most side effects like a fever are caused by natural immune system response (which means the vaccine is working). Luckily, Mumps is usually a non-life threatening illness but can still cause major complications. If anti-immunization ideology continues to spread in Hawaii, it is only a matter of time before more serious diseases like measles or polio begin to take hold in the islands killing and maiming our most vulnerable including infants, elderly, and the ill.