By Ellen Sturm Niz
February 10, 2015
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melanie's marvelous measles book

It seems like a kid's book called Melanie's Marvelous Measles must be a joke, but, unbelievably, it's not. I am happy to report, however, that the author is now getting vilified on Amazon with reviewers holding no punches. The 1,000-plus overwhelmingly negative reviews include sarcastic doozies like, "I didn't like this one as much as her follow up book, Larry's Amazing Lung Cancer," from commenter Stan Spaeth, as well as heartwrenching stories of how wrong this book is. Seabisquick wrote, "My infant daughter went blind after contracting measles from an unvaccinated child, and yet there's no braille version of this wonderful book for me to give her someday to explain to her how awesome the disease that took her sight away is."

According to a note from the author/publisher on the Amazon page, author Stephanie Messenger wrote the book "to educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully." In the book's story about little Melanie, it makes several claims that seem to rate pretty high on the Lunacy Scale.

Because I'm not a doctor, I reached out to Harley Rotbart, M.D., Parents advisor, professor and vice chairman emeritus of pediatrics and microbiology, pediatric infectious diseases, at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. Here is how he expertly debunked this book and all its outrageous claims, point by point.

Claim #1: The book says getting enough vitamin A will stop you from getting the measles, and that, if you have measles, eating fruits and veggies high in vitamin A will be helpful for healing.

DEBUNKED! "Vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of severe outcomes, including death, due to measles," Dr. Rotbart said. "When given to children with diagnosed measles virus infection in developing countries, two doses of vitamin A can cut the death rate in half – but the fact that we're talking about reducing death rates due to measles is testament to the potential severity of this infection and the need for immunization to prevent it from occurring. Prior to widespread use of immunization, between 2 and 3 million deaths due to measles occurred worldwide each year."

Claim #2: The author's note says, "I have experienced many times when my children's vaccinated peers succumb to the childhood diseases they were vaccinated against."

DEBUNKED! "I have seen fewer than 10 cases of measles in 30 years as a pediatric infectious diseases specialist," Dr. Rotbart said. "In developed countries like the U.S.—and Australia, the author's home—measles is rare because of the effectiveness of vaccines. Here are the measles stats for Australia (173 cases in all of 2012); clearly it's impossible for the author to have seen 'many' cases among her kids' friends. The vaccine is 99% effective after the recommended two doses."

Claim #3: Unvaccinated kids can hug kids infected with measles and not get it.

DEBUNKED! "Measles is among the most contagious infectious diseases," Dr. Rotbart says. "The transmission rate from a true case of measles to an unvaccinated close contact is 90%."

Claim #4: Having the measles can be beneficial to your health.

DEBUNKED! "The only health 'benefit' of having measles is immunity from getting it again," Dr. Rotbart says. "Immunity can be achieved with the vaccine at much, much lower risk than by having the natural disease. Having measles does not provide enhanced immunity to other infections nor does it 'boost' a patient's immune system."

So, let's sum it up, shall we? Is it possible to survive measles and go on to live a normal life? Well, sure. It's also possible to run with scissors without falling and stabbing oneself in the frontal lobe and suffering permanent brain damage (and far more likely than escaping the measles unscathed, frankly). Most kids who run with scissors probably grow up to live wonderful lives. But do we say, "Hey, Junior, here's a pair of scissors! Why don't you go run around with them for a while because, if it doesn't maim or kill you, it could make you better!" Um, no, we do not. Because that would be insane.

Basically, that's what Messenger is saying; just swap in "don't get your kid vaccinated for measles" for the run-with-scissors scenario. Measles is incredibly contagious—you can get it just by walking by a room with an infected person in it—and incredibly dangerous. In addition to the respiratory disease's high fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, sore throat, and uncomfortable all-over rash (sounds super fun!), children under age 5 are the most likely to develop severe complications. From 2001 to 2013, 28 percent of children younger than 5 years old who had measles had to be treated in the hospital, reports the CDC.

The CDC also says that 1 in 10 kids will develop an ear infection that could cause permanent hearing damage. As many as 1 in 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children. Plus, 1 in 1,000 will develop encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions and leave the child deaf or mentally impaired. The CDC says for every 1,000 children who get measles, 1 or 2 will die from it.

My point is, measles is a completely preventable disease. You don't have to take chances that your kid will be that 1 of 1,000, of 20, or 10. Just get your kids vaccinated. Doctors recommend that kids get two doses of the MMR shot for best protection—99 percent protection. Kids get the first shot at 12 to 15 months of age and the second at age 4 through 6 years. So by getting your kid vaccinated, you're also helping protect the little kids who haven't been vaccinated at all yet or received their second dose.

So, if you still think measles might be marvelous, get out a pair of scissors. Would you hand them to your kid and ask him to run? No? I didn't think so.

Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based writer who hated having the chicken pox. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Image via Amazon