THE BLOG

Medical Myths Are Killing Us

03/03/2015 12:45 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2015
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In the past few months, I -- and many of my colleagues in the field of public health -- have been absolutely horrified by the seemingly growing number of preventable illnesses in this country. And by that, I mean illnesses that were less common in the past than today. For goodness sake, I grew up in the 70s and 80s. When medical notes were sent home, it was because one child had lice. That led to widespread panic. No one would share combs or even touch a friend's head. Schools immediately sent home pamphlets to educate the parents so that they fully understood that their child was at risk. Today children are going home with notes stating a child or group of kids have contracted measles, mumps, rubella or polio. Seriously? That is asinine.

During my career, I have worked in developing countries and have, unfortunately, seen what these diseases can do to a child or even an adult who has survived infection. It took me weeks to figure out why so many people who had withered limbs and/or used a skateboard for mobility in Senegal. There, these unfortunate health realities were due to lack of access to quality health care. Here, it is solely due to lack of education and due diligence. What is needed? An ad campaign showing what can happen to a person who does not receive vaccinations? Should someone find pictures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and show what a childhood infection that is preventable today did to his body?

Let's talk facts. The man who started this anti-vaxxer generalized panic and misinformation lost his British medical license for lying to the world about the association of vaccines with autism. His outright deception led to the creation of a movement with public leaders like Jenny McCarthy who helped widely infect this level of ignorance not unlike the Bubonic Plague (which by the way, was not caused by the Jews, as was commonly believed by European Gentiles at that time).

Even in Canada's largest city of Toronto, their Department of Health worried about the spread of misinformation by Ms. McCarthy. They released an official statement confirming its role: "Our job is to do what we can to ensure the public is aware and that policies are health-promoting rather than health-impeding." Today, there are 10 times as many new cases as in 2004. Fifteen years ago, measles was considered to be effectively eliminated from the United States.

Communities who historically have had the greatest risk of poor health outcomes and early death are often the most distrustful of the medical system -- often with good reason. Older Black Americans will detail the Tuskegee Syphilis Study where Black men who participated in the clinical trial were not told immediately when a cure was discovered in the form of penicillin. These researchers let these men die and/or live severely debilitated lives just so they could learn what the full course of syphilis looked like on the human body. The general Black community is still suffering from the fact that these depraved individuals made that choice. It is well documented that Blacks often are the last demographic to take advantage of available preventative and curative treatments, whether it is flu shots, HPV vaccines, curative hepatitis C (HCV) treatment, or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that can prevent HIV infection. The Tuskegee Trial is often cited as the reason. And we see these effects each and every day. Blacks over-represent deaths from influenza, cervical and anal cancers, hepatitis C and advanced HIV disease or AIDS leading to far shorter life expectancies.

That autism "researcher" and those Tuskegee "scientists" have done almost as much -- if not more -- damage to preventative health care than the viruses themselves. In the past few months, more myth proclamations from all sectors of the public sphere including those who work in public health. That must come to end. People cannot be indirectly killed due to purposeful non-action based on misinformation. Those of us in the medical and public health fields have to maintain our due diligence to educate men, women -- and yes -- children about biomedical advances in health. While those of us in public health were not guarding the door, these myths have come back, grown strong, and taken a firm hold on society. Now instead of concentrating on supporting research to find an HIV vaccine (an exciting new possibility is now upon us) or cure or a better understanding of which other viruses may ultimately lead to cancer, we are on the defense to ensure the public that what we already know and have proven actually works.

And miles to go before we sleep...