Death highlights why vaccination is vital
The prolonged deterioration and eventual death of a young woman in Australia is being held up as a warning against failing to vaccinate.
The 23-year-old Victoria woman, who was previously otherwise healthy, suffered through nine months of neurological decline.
"She had experienced involuntary jerks, visual disturbance and reduced speech, resulting in falls, impaired ability to perform activities of daily living and urinary incontinence," researchers wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia.
She had arrived in the country from the Philippines two years earlier. MRI scans of her brain showed a loss of brain matter, and other tests showed a persistent measles infection.
Her death was attributed to subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, also known as Dawson encephalitis. Only one in 10,000 measles infections result in the condition, which has no cure.
"This case is important as it highlights a terrible consequence of a vaccine-preventable disease," says lead author Eloise Williams of Western Health Medicine.
"Achieving whole-population vaccination is instrumental in preventing measles infections through the development of herd immunity."
Herd immunity for measles needs at least 96 percent of the population immune, giving the virus few chances to spread and mutate. It is especially important for babies, pregnant women and others who can't receive vaccinations.
By the age of five, only 92 percent of Australian children have had their required measles shots. This figure has barely shifted since 2001, an accompanying study also in the Medical Journal of Australia notes.
There has been a rise in recorded parental objections to vaccination in Australia -- particularly in affluent areas -- from 1.1 to 2 percent. But this has been offset by a drop in the numbers of children not getting vaccinated without a given reason.
Overall, it's believed somewhere between 3 and 4 percent of Australian children don't get vaccinated because their parents object. In New Zealand, Ministry of Health figures put objections at under 1 percent, for all diseases.
The study says despite growing coverage of parental concerns about vaccines, the objection rate overall in Australia has been static since 2001.
Claims vaccines cause conditions such as autism and bowel disease made in the 1990s were later shown to be fraudulent. Andrew Wakefield, who made the claims, was struck off the UK medical register and barred from practising medicine.