vaccinations

As a modern-day parent living in the United States, you likely haven’t heard of many Diphtheria cases, and may even be unfamiliar with the disease all together. However recent news from the city of Olot, Spain revealed a newly developed diagnosis within a 6 year old unvaccinated child, causing concern among the community.

The diagnosis was given last month, efforts to save the child’s life were futile and medical professionals were no match against the disease’s deadly spread, which caused the young boy’s fatality.

The Spanish child had been going to school and attending camp activities when the disease was contracted. It was later discovered that 10 of his contacts had also contracted Diphtheria of the throat, but due to all 10 children having received the Diphtheria vaccination, results were far less severe and all 10 children have since recovered.

So what exactly is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a very contagious, infectious disease caused by Corynebacterium Diphtheria, a Gram positive organism that can produce a variety of symptoms, including fever, headache, large tonsils, bloody nose and the formation of membranes inside the throat and nose, making it difficult to breath. The effects of the toxins produced by this organism can damage the heart, kidneys and lungs, and carries a case-fatality rate of about 20 % for children less than 6 years of age and people over 40.

While this is the first Diphtheria case that Spain has seen in the past 25 years, it used to be a major cause of death among children. In 1921, over 200,000 cases were diagnosed causing over 15,000 deaths. Fortunately a vaccine was introduced shortly after the massive spread, causing a dramatic decrease in the number of cases and fatalities. According to the CDC, there were no known cases in the United States between 2004 and 2008, however there were 4,887 cases reported globally.

The Importance of Vaccinations

Parents have a big responsibility on their shoulders when they decide against vaccines. The parents of this unfortunate child made a decision against vaccines based on the information they had access to.

But, who is responsible for giving patients information? I believe health care providers should be the source of information about health care issues; but we are the ones failing to arm patients with evidence-based education to prevent situations like this.

Our society is paying the price of progress by giving credibility to information that may be good or bad, without any editing in between. Anybody can post advice about medical illnesses and healthy behavior without any expertise in the matter and claiming anecdotal incidents that create fear in families. We, doctors are failing our patients because of lack of time, resources and charisma. We are not selling anything; we only provide information about an approach to health that has been credible and successful, but we don’t know how to communicate it to people. Only time and its consequences will set the record straight, with unfortunate consequences for some of our children.

I live it everyday in my practice when I, for example, give advice about the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine. It is administered to adolescents, but parents make the decision about whether to give it or not. It is a decision that is going to impact the health of the child when he or she is an adult, by preventing a very important disease such as cancer. This should be a no-brainer decision for any parent, and yet, everyday parents refuse the vaccine. The difference then must be in the way we present that information. For this situation a Chinese proverb comes to mind; “ The Fool Looks At the Finger That Points To The Sky”. After all, we are only human and we can do only what is humanly possible. I have been trying for almost 30 years and I have to say that my balance is positive.

Trusting Your Doctor

Today I visited a little newborn at the hospital. Her father was my patient as a child, and the emotions of watching one of my patients growing up to be a healthy, responsible adult is one I can’t describe with words.

My advice to the public in general is listen to your doctor. They’re not trying to sell you anything and there is no financial reward behind his/her advice, like some claim. Ultimately, it’s up to you, as a parent, to make the right choice.

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.