Our fast-paced world is often complicated by the ubiquity of technology and the Internet, which touch every aspect of our lives, from our relationships to our finances, and even our health. In many ways, these tools make our lives easier: longer life spans, swift communication with relatives and friends near and far, and real-time news updates, for example.
Unfortunately, the abundance of information available on the Internet and the ease with which we can access it can also have significant negative repercussions.
An old-fashioned viral outbreak
One way the Internet has possibly harmed our health-care decisions may appear in the dramatic increase in measles outbreaks over the past decade. As recently as 2000, health officials had declared measles virtually eradicated in the United States.
But this month New York City has identified at least 20 cases of measles — six that required hospitalization. Since measles is highly contagious and most health-care providers have never seen a case of the disease before, this outbreak has been difficult for infectious disease professionals to track and quarantine.
Of the 20 cases, 11 are adults and nine are children. Seven of the nine children were too young to be vaccinated or were within the recommended ages for vaccination but had not yet received the shots. The other two children had not been vaccinated because of their parents’ religious or philosophical objections.
The percentage of children who remain unvaccinated against the measles has risen dramatically in the last decade. That’s partly due to a growing number of parents concerned about scientifically unproven claims that the MMR vaccination may lead to autism.
How the Internet spread ignorance
Prominent anti-vaccine activists such as actress Jenny McCarthy have been vocal about the issue, and many parents believe what they see in the media and read on the Internet. For example, surveys conducted in 2008 showed that about 1 in 4 adults reported they were familiar with McCarthy’s views about vaccines; and 40 percent of these adults also said her claims have called into question their own views about vaccine safety.
While New York has been experiencing its outbreak, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his wife, former reality TV star Kristin Cavallari, said they wouldn’t vaccinate their children because of fears about autism.
Unfortunately, unvaccinated individuals put the rest of the public at risk. Just last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report warning that anti-vaccine beliefs have fueled a rise in measles cases.
Unscientific notions endanger lives
In the report, researchers noted that 2013 saw the highest number of measles cases in nearly 20 years, and 80 percent of those cases occurred among unvaccinated people, most of whom claimed “philosophical differences” with the MMR vaccine.
On the other hand, the Internet is not just a source of misinformation. For those concerned about symptoms of disease or other issues of health, sites such as www.iCliniq.com enable you to talk directly with a licensed online doctor for free. This unique online service offers phone and video consultations to build trust with patients while still offering the convenience of technology and the Internet.
Parents who wish to determine wherther their child’s fever, cough, runny nose, or emerging rash is the first sign of measles or something more benign can be reassured by a qualified health-care professional just a few clicks away.