A vaccine triumph!
© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD
For the second time in human history, a vaccine has helped successfully eradicate a terrible disease from the face of the earth.
Rinderpest, caused by a virus in the measles family, has never infected humans. But it kills about 80% of its victims, mostly livestock like cattle and oxen. It has caused the loss of entire herds, and has led to human famine in Africa and Europe. An effective, reliable vaccine was developed in the 1950’s, and coordinated efforts including tracking, quarantine, and vaccination led to a quick decline of this devastating illness. The UN has announced that the last case or rinderpest transmission was in 2001, and at this time the disease has been declared completely eliminated from natural transmission.
Smallpox, a much-deadlier cousin of chicken pox, was eradicated as a cause of human disease in the 1970’s. And Guinea Worm, which once caused misery and debility to millions of people in central Africa, may also soon be a disease only seen in the history book.
Other diseases could at least theoretically be eliminated entirely. Measles, for instance, is genetically stable, only carried by humans, and has a very safe and effective vaccine. Poliomyelitis was almost eliminated several years ago, until warlords in Africa used violence and anti-vaccine propaganda to destroy years of coordinated efforts.
Let’s give credit where credit is due: vaccines, along with other public health measures, have been tremendously successful in improving and extending our lives. As part of a coordinated attack, they can even completely eliminate diseases from the face of the Earth. We’re all in this together. Make sure your child is up-to-date on the vaccines that are protecting us all.