Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Refusing jab a case of 'Russian roulette'

Ally Edwards-Lasenby with son Cameron, whose case of measles was so bad he spent three days in hospital fighting for his life. Photo / Christine Cornege
Ally Edwards-Lasenby with son Cameron, whose case of measles was so bad he spent three days in hospital fighting for his life. Photo / Christine Cornege

When Cameron Edwards-Lasenby began feeling unwell, his mother, Ally, took the teenager to their doctor, who diagnosed a bad case of the flu.

Two days later, the 13-year-old was rushed to Waikato Hospital with a full-body rash, dizziness, white lumps on the inside of his cheeks and conjunctivitis.

He also had nausea, light sensitivity, a runny nose and cough and a red neck and face.

The Te Awamutu College student had contracted measles, a highly infectious virus with potentially serious complications.

The Year 9 student was the first of 17 unimmunised teenagers living in and around the Waikato town to be struck down with the virus last July, during a nationwide measles outbreak which infected more than 180 people.

Cameron was put in isolation and spent three days in hospital on oxygen fighting for his life.

"The poor kid was miserable," Mrs Edwards-Lasenby said.

He couldn't eat for two weeks during the illness, lost 7kg, had almost a month off school and was left drained of energy. "It was not a good feeling seeing my son as vulnerable as he was. It was very scary. He was just so weak and sick."

Pneumonia began to take hold after he was discharged from hospital because measles attacks the respiratory system.

Now 14, Cameron said he realised after the illness how serious it really was.

He said other teenagers should be immunised if they aren't already because "it sucked being how I was and it can get quite bad".

Before the measles he played at least five sports but now he can manage only rugby. "I'm still not up to my normal fitness level."

Cameron was told it would take 12 months to fully recover from his bout with measles.

The youngster had to work up to attending school full-time, initially starting back doing half days.

"Then he just caught anything," Mrs Edwards-Lasenby said. "Any little scratch he had became an infection and he was constantly on antibiotics."

The family had to tell everyone they had come into contact with, in case Cameron had spread the virus to other unimmunised people.

Cameron was not immunised, despite his older brother Paul receiving one round of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine as a child, which saved the 15-year-old from contracting the infection.

Mrs Edwards-Lasenby, an early childhood teacher, decided against immunising Cameron because of speculation at the time that the MMR vaccine could cause autism.

A study in 1998 by British doctor Andrew Wakefield which presented evidence showing that autism disorders could be caused by the vaccine was discredited after it was revealed that the researcher had multiple conflicts of interest.

The theory was eventually retracted in 2010 and Wakefield was struck off the medical register, but not before triggering a worldwide health scare around the MMR vaccine.

Said Mrs Edwards-Lasenby: "It was one of those things where I had made the informed decision at the time not to do the MMR vaccine, with the information I had available to me. But where I went wrong was not going back to revisit that information and the advice available as time went on."

She urged parents to reconsider immunisation, particularly if advice changes, to avoid playing "Russian roulette" with children's lives.

"I also understand the importance of parents and families being able to make their own decisions based on good, sound information, but it's so important to make sure the information you are basing your decisions on is from a credible source and that you revisit it."

Cameron finally got the MMR vaccine at Waikato Hospital's immunisation clinic and as a result of his brush with measles, many follow-up immunisations have been done.

SPOT CHECK

The illness usually starts 10-12 days after you've been exposed.

If you have measles, you will get:
* A fever.
* A runny nose.
* Sore and watery 'pink eyes'.
* Sometimes small white spots on the back inner cheek of your mouth.
* A rash that usually starts on the third to seventh day of the illness. This tends to start on the face, or behind the ears, before moving over the head and down the body. The rash lasts for up to a week.

- NZ Herald

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