Of Mice and Measles

Of Mice and Measles
Luke McGarry

With measles thought to be wiped out in the United States since 2000, December's outbreak at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and subsequent spread much farther beyond Orange County are unusual from a recent historical perspective.

But the response from the bashers of immigrants, anti-vaxxers and anti-abortionists who have capitalized on the outbreak? No, you could see that coming like a smoke cloud blowing into your southwest Anaheim neighborhood after a nightly fireworks spectacular.

The rhetorical frenzy has been as swift as the disease's spread. State health officials revealed on Jan. 7 that nine confirmed cases of measles were tied to people who had been at Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure between Dec. 15 and Dec. 20. Patients ranged in age from 8 months to 21 years, six victims had not been vaccinated, and five were Disney cast members.

"Although we aren't sure exactly how this year's outbreak began, we assume that someone got infected overseas, visited the parks and spread the disease to others," Dr. Anne Schuchat, who directs the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a Jan. 29 news conference.

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Cases mounted through January after some infected at the Happiest Petri Dish On Earth returned to their homes and lives. As of Monday, there were 102 people in 14 states who have become infected with the extremely contagious virus that is considered vaccine-preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which notes most but not all cases originated in Anaheim. Patients across the country range in age from 7 months to 70 years, and there have already been more adult cases than in previous outbreaks.

The Disney parks have been identified as the origin for measles in California, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Nebraska, Michigan and Mexico. Of the Golden State's league-leading 91 cases, 58 were Disney-connected, according to the California Department of Public Health. Orange County is the region with the highest concentration, with the 27th case confirmed Feb. 2 by OC Health Care.

It's gotten so bad that President Barack Obama told parents on the Feb. 2 Today Show, "Get your kids vaccinated."

The CDC recommends children get the first of their two measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine doses at 12 months to 15 months. They should get the second dose at 4 to 6 years. If you're older and have not been vaccinated, you're being advised to get vaccinated right away. Pneumonia, blindness and death can result from the measles, which begins with a fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed within a few days by a red rash that usually appears on the face before spreading down to the rest of the body.

There have been a small number of cases among those who had been vaccinated sometime in their lives, although health officials say these people usually experience milder symptoms. Those who think they have measles are asked to call ahead before visiting a health-care office due to the threat of spreading the disease.

Caduceus Medical Group, which has offices in Irvine, Yorba Linda and Laguna Beach, is now offering to pick up patient out-of-pocket costs for the MMR vaccine. "We can see the consequences of a significant part of the population choosing to not immunize, whatever the reasons," explained Dr. Gregg DeNicola, Caduceus' medical director.

So what could we have predicted from all this? Most certainly that the usual suspects would chime in given that Southern California is both ground zero and close to the Mexican border.

Representative of this was someone identified as "WhyNotMe307," who commented on Brietbart.com's coverage of the Disney outbreak, "What they have not told you is that the unvaccinated are the illegal immigrants they allowed into their state. The MSM would like to spin it to the abjectors, but t'aint so. That is what you get when immigration is unchecked and uncontrolled. Thank you, DOD, for your failure to secure the border. Thank you, Presidenta Obozo, for handing out the invitation."

Among the comments Los Angeles' CBS station received was: "Porous borders and illegal alien vermin brought this pestilence back."

Over at NBC: "This is why these damn illegals have got to go."

Keep in mind that due to patient confidentiality, no patient's immigration status has been disclosed.   Were those critical of the anti-vaccination movement just waiting for an outbreak such as this to pounce on as well? You betcha. For those unaware of the so-called "anti-vaxxers," they are mostly parents who do not allow their children to be vaccinated, public-school enrollment regulations be damned. They blame vaccines or their ingredients for a range of maladies. Health officials are quick to note that the highest concentration of avowed anti-vaxxers is not in the barrios, but rather wealthy, well-educated communities such as Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

The poster child (or centerfold?) for anti-vaxxers, however reluctantly, is television personality Jenny McCarthy. In the past, she has said vaccinations can cause autism and that her son's autism was cured by chelation therapy, whose underlying rationale is mercury in vaccines may cause autism. Those notions were roundly rejected by scientists, however.

Larry Wilmore recently opened The Nightly Show, which has taken over The Colbert Report slot on Comedy Central, by saying, "Tonightly, the bad news is the measles epidemic hits Disneyland. The good news is there is finally a souvenir you don't have to pay 50 bucks for." The host later "learned" some link vaccines to autism, feigning alarm as he wondered whether medical doctors were saying that. After running old news clips of McCarthy saying she believes vaccines can cause autism, Wilmore shot back, "Oh, for f***'s sake--Jenny McCarthy?"

To be fair, Donnie Wahlberg's recent bride has since said her son is not autistic (Landau-Kleffner syndrome, anyone?), as well as that "I am not anti-vaccine."

Fear not, Orange County anti-vaxxers, we have our own version of the old Jenny, although I doubt anyone wants to see Costa Mesa City Councilman Gary Monahan naked. The father of six, including a boy with autism, Monahan has skipped vaccinations for his youngest four children. "How do I say this without sounding crazy?" he asked the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 25. "I don't want anyone to get measles . . . but you have to make it easier for the parents through the health system to do it the right way. Pounding three live viruses into somebody at 1 year old is devastating."

Some anti-vaxxers have also used the Disneyland outbreak to bolster their argument that they would be more willing to subject their children to vaccinations if the ingredients were safer. Others say they would be more willing if vaccination ingredients did not come from dead babies.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Life League, which bills itself as the "oldest national Catholic pro-life education and advocacy organization in the United States," and Children of God for Life, a Largo, Florida-based campaign to outlaw the use of aborted fetuses in creating vaccinations, blame vaccine maker Merck for the Disneyland outbreak. Their reasoning is more parents would have vaccinated their kids had Merck not switched in 2008 from what the activists call the "ethical single-dose vaccine" to the baby-juiced MMR II. As reported on the Weekly's Navel Gazing news blog on Jan. 30, the groups have teamed for a change.org petition urging Merck to bring back MMR I.

As for the place where it all started? California health officials have been quick to point out that Disneyland is not to blame for the outbreak, that it could have started anywhere large crowds congregate.

"I think it is absolutely safe for you to go to Disneyland if you're vaccinated," said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez, who did caution that infants should be kept away from large crowds while the measles continues to spread.

About as fast as the Goofy rhetoric.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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