Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Public Health Achievement #4: Vaccination

April great public health achievement badgeIn BC, we are experiencing an outbreak of measles, with 83 confirmed cases in the province as of May 10.  It is believed that measles came into the province from people who were visiting during the Olympics1 and has spread to unvaccinated (or partially vaccinated2) individuals in the province.  Which brings us to the topic of vaccination.

One hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, they now cause less than 5% of all deaths—thanks to immunization programs. (Source)

The MMR Controversy

There are, however, some anti-vaccination campaigns out there, most notably one against MMR vaccine in particular. In 1998 a study was published in the Lancet by Andrew Wakefield and 12 co-authors linking MMR to autism.  After that, rates of MMR immunizations in the UK decreased dramatically and, as a result, cases of measles and mumps increased.  Since we don’t see these diseases much in developed countries – thanks to vaccination – we tend to forgot how dangerous they can be.  Measles can and does cause serious disability, and even death, in some children.  The Wakefield paper has since been retracted by 10 of his co-authors and was then fully retracted by the journal after a General Medical Council investigation found Wakefield “to have acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” and to have acted with “callous disregard” for the children involved in his study.  For example, he failed to get ethics approval for the invasive procedures he used in his study and, what I find most interesting, he had filed patents for vaccines that rival the MMR one.  So, by discrediting the MMR vaccine he stood to gain a substantial amount of money by selling an alternative vaccine in its place3.  Despite all of this, however, there still remains a significant amount of fear that MMR can cause autism, and some parents will not vaccinate their children.

Some random interesting facts about vaccination:

  • immunization saves 3 million lives and prevents 750,000 disabilities per year worldwide each year (according to the WHO4)
  • still, 9 million kids age of 5 and younger die every year of diseases that could be preventable by vaccines. 9 million!!
  • Canada achieved one of the highest rates of H1N1 immunization (45% of the population was vaccinated, compared to 25% in Australia, 20% in the US and 7% in the UK).

Stuff you can do:

  • If you were born after 1956 and haven’t received two doses of the MMR vaccine – go get vaccinated!
  • Get informed about what vaccines are available and what ones need booster shots (e.g., you need a tetanus booster every 10 years)
  • Keep your immunization record up-to-date.
  • Traveling to another country? Visit your local travel clinic to find out what diseases are endemic to the area you’ll be visiting and if there are any vaccines you can get for those diseases.

For the record, I totally wrote something up for this back in April, but then WordPress eated it and I was too disheartened to write it all over again that day and then I forgot about it and now I’m posting it two weeks after April ended. (Though I’m backdating it so it will appear in my archives for April.  Because I’m awesome like that). Given that I have a problem with blogging about things things on time (see: BC Premiers series, abandonment thereof), I probably should stop creating “series” on my blog. I won’t, but I probably should.

  1. although another case appears to have come from someone returning home to the Interior after visiting India []
  2. to receive full protection from the measles, mumps & rubella (MMR) vaccine, you need two doses.  Receiving only one dose leaves you only partially protected []
  3. you can read the whole story over on Wikipedia []
  4. that is to say, the World Health Organization.   Not The Who. I have no idea what their stats on immunizations say []


Public Health Achievement #3: Healthier environments

March great public health achievement badgeSomehow it’s almost the end of March and I’ve just realized that I completely missed posting about the public health achievement for February1.  Yikes! Anyway, here’s March’s:

Healthier Environments

Usually when we think of “health” we think of medicine, nutrition & physical activity.  But things like water and air quality are tremendously important to health as well.  Just think of the seven who died, and thousands who were sickened, by the E. coli-contaminated water in Walkerton, ON in 2000.

Some random interesting facts about healthier environments

  • the regulation of sewage and the water supply was first started in Quebec in 1894. This type of work reduced diseases such as cholera, diphtheria and typhoid fever which used to be common because drinking water would get contaminated by sewage. Shockingly, some cities still do not process their sewage today (!) including Victoria, BC, Halifax, NS and St. John’s, NL.
  • community water fluoridation – which helps prevent tooth decay – was first started in Canada with a pilot project in Brantford, ON in 1945. Today about 45% of Canadians have access to fluoridated water, though the rates vary from none to very little of the populations in Yukon, Nunavut, BC & NL to the majority of the population (~75%) in Ontario & Alberta.
  • the Environmental Protection Act was passed (reducing the contribution of vehicles to air pollution in 1988).
  • 20%-30% of the bacteria in water samples from urban watersheds (i.e., where we get our water from) can be traced to dog poop!

Stuff you can do:

We all know about the things we can do to be kinder to the environment (like walking, biking or taking transit instead of driving; or using reusable mugs and shopping bags rather than disposable ones). But here are a few other, less commonly thought about things you can do to make your environment healthier:

  • Pick up your dog’s poop! Not only is dog poop left in yards or on sidewalks just plain gross, it can be a health hazard too!
  • Use Health Canada’s Hazardcheck website to check your environment for (and learn more about how to deal with) hazards!
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
  • Use a dehumidifier if your house is damp to prevent the growth of mould2
  • Pay attention to consumer safety warnings/recalls to make sure you don’t have any hazardous products in your home.
  • If your community doesn’t already have them, advocate for fluoridation of water and for sewage treatment3.
  1. I’m going to write it after this and back date it. Because clearly I’m not above such things []
  2. being a basement dweller, I know all about the nastiness of mould! []
  3. I’m looking at you, Victoria, BC []