Sunday, 8 February 2009

Measles and the Media

The BBC has reported this weekend an increase in measles in the UK. Not really any surprise to anyone with a bit of medical knowledge. It is an interesting example of the power of media to influence the population for the worse.

Mrs ND’s favourite morning TV is Gormless Moron TV otherwise known as GMTV and as we share the same house one has over the many years we have been together had the misfortune to have seen bits of it. One thing that struck ND, apart from Dr Hilary’s claims that meningitis was a virus (yes that is one of the many causes but he was referring to the bacterial serious kind at the time), was the disproportionate way in which scare stories about MMR are always in the first 1-3 items of a news bulletin whereas any study showing it to be safe was almost always left until the last but one item on the news.

Such is the accuracy of GMTV that they report 3 cases of meningitis in the whole of the UK as an “epidemic” when in the same week ND as a junior grunt did diagnose 3 cases of meningitis in one part of Northernshire which was never reported by the responsible, but not wishing to scaremonger press, that is GMTV. ND is not a journalist but 3 cases in the whole of a population of 60 millions an "epidemic" versus 3 cases in a population of 100.000. That must just be a blip?

If ever a gong is awarded for disservices to medicine via the media it should go to St Fiona who over the years has wallowed in presenting scare stories and then a few months ago presented an item saying how “GMTV had predicted a rise in measles” cases in the early 1990s many years earlier the implication being that she alone knew better than anyone else that this would be the case. Not exactly difficult given how much time she had spent frightening people.

A few seconds of bad journalism can damage public health and undo many years of work done by doctors, health visitors and nurses in promoting immunization which will then take more years of persuasion to put right.

While that is happening people will catch the disease and suffer unnecessary and preventable harm. Thank you St Fiona you have wasted more medical time than anyone other than Government and earned in the process more per year for doing so than a GP. You are truly a Saint and worthy of something.

The message has to be to immunize your children not only for their protection but also that of others. Smallpox was eliminated from the world and in theory so could measles via mass immunization.

There are risks with any medical treatment but all the research to date shows that the risk from vaccination is less than the risks of being killed on the roads but most parents will happily put their child into a car and drive them to school or the supermarket or the GPs surgery. Some will not immunize their children.

Over the years ND and the team has been promoting MMR to worried parents something that takes a lot of time and we are relatively well protected in our part of Northernshire a credit to our nurses, health visitors and rarely mentioned public health doctors who have tirelessly worked to spread the correct message. We also have very low rates of confirmed measles (all cases being in the unvaccinated traveller community rather than the home population or imported via unvaccinated children from abroad).

It never ceases to amaze us that “measles” is frequently diagnosed by teachers who, more likely than not, have never seen a genuine case of measles. They inform school nurses who panic and issue pieces of paper to parents that say there is “measles” in the school with no confirmation of the diseases and guess what happens?

Loads of GP consultations based on the ignorance of a teacher. All such cases in the last 10 years have been due to slapped cheek syndrome a relatively mild illness.

Except if it occurs in a school where any rash in a well child is inevitably due to the Bubonic plague if you are a teacher. And rumours about the Plague spread fast at the school gates.

How do we know it is not measles?

Because we talk to public health doctors and ask them about any confirmed measles cases and notify the “measles" cases to them who then test the children and the tests are negative.

There are many arguments for immunization but the one ND thinks is most powerful is the one that goes is MMR banned in the USA?

Surely if it was as dangerous as it is claimed then someone would have successfully sued, made millions and drug companies would have dropped the product like a stone?

Has anyone done so?

Based on current evidence we rest our case. (We are always prepared to be wrong if some can prove it).

Praise be to the Party and its openness about which of its senior members immunize their children. Yes we respect medical confidentiality but lead by example not by ignorance. Once again the UK is top of the league in Europe in matters of health.

N.B. it would appear that there may now allegedly be a new “Saint” on the block that is Mediasville according to the Witch Doctor - many thanks for your kind mentions in the recent past - hope the cold air is not affecting your flying and spell casting! (and others including Dr Grumble).
Respect to you all.
Not as yet had a chance to view the source so the last bit the N.B. is to be regarded as heresay but occurred as a pure coincidence after viewing the news re measles this weekend.

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