Skip to main content

Fatal Infections

By Dr. Scott Hamilton
March 16, 2023
Hamilton Blog Headshot Updated 12.21.21

Even before the fateful Apollo 13 mission, Houston already had a problem. Astronaut Ken Mattingly was exposed to highly contagious rubella. The disease’s time frame might have him incapacitated with illness when his crewmates would be down on the moon, leaving him alone in the command module. The Apollo 13 movie depicts a blow-up among astronauts as Mattingly is replaced by back-up pilot Jack Swigert. In real life, the decision was easy – jeopardize a multi-million-dollar mission and astronauts' lives? Nah. Everyone agreed: switch out Mattingly and book him a later flight.

Another measles outbreak is imminent. Like its cousin rubella, measles is a highly contagious virus that can incapacitate people, especially children. On February 17, there was a religious gathering in Kentucky. One attendee had measles. If he passed it on to any of the other 20,000 attendees, they could be sick and shedding the virus right about now. It takes time for a virus to brew in you before you get sick and become contagious. Any attendees from Acadiana could be shedding measles right now here at home.

Why the fuss? Most kids get only the usual viral stuff from measles: cough, runny nose, fever and spotty rash. The kicker is that some people, particularly children, can get pneumonias or brain infections. Most deaths are in children under 5. Measles is also super contagious. If someone coughs out a measles particle, it can remain suspended in the air for up to two hours, waiting to be inhaled by unsuspecting passersby. 

To avoid such trouble: get your children their measles vaccine. Most kids get the shot at 12 months of age, and a booster before kindergarten. However, many are behind since the COVID quarantine. Some parents are also deferring vaccines or refusing them altogether: ripe fields for a deadly crop!

Remember the video from medical school. A doctor opens a legal letter informing him of a malpractice suit against him. He breaks out in a sweat, ready to call the plaintiff's lawyer and lash out. Those letters are written in accusatory language, just short of saying, “You quack! You should be digging ditches, not practicing medicine, and you'd probably botch that too!” This was to prepare us for the 50/50 chance we'd get sued in our careers; high-risk specialties like surgery or emergency medicine: 70–80%.

One doctor in California was sued because he advised a family that they should get their unvaccinated child caught up. They didn't. Later, the child contracted a vaccine-preventable infection and died. Their claim: the doctor told us we should vaccinate our child, but he didn't tell us the infections could be fatal!

I tell families plainly that the infections we vaccinate against can be life-threatening. I have witnessed deaths from tetanus and pneumococcus, and seen children gravely ill with pertussis, meningococcus, hemophilus and measles. Given that we have over 50 years of experience with the safety of vaccines, there's no reason not to get them. They're some of the safest medicines ever invented and claims otherwise are ignorant of the facts.

As mentioned, we may see another national measles outbreak soon. In February, a measles-infected person attended a religious gathering of 20,000 people in Kentucky. Measles is highly contagious and can cause life-threatening pneumonias and brain infections in kids. But that's almost small news, given that there's almost yearly measles outbreaks in poorly vaccinated communities around the country. When outbreaks happen, local health departments have trouble getting enough measles vaccine as worried parents hurry to get their kids shots before they get sick too.

Don't be that parent! Catch up on their vaccines now, just in case, because “just in case” can happen at any time.