Suffering does not even begin to encompass what our children with measles are experiencing. Right now, in hospitals around the country, babies and children are going through harrowing stuff.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease with no specific cure. Young babies and toddlers don't understand what is happening to them but they know pain, fever and exhaustion.
I don't think it is fair for any parent in these days of modern medicine to even have the thought cross their mind that their child could die or suffer brain damage from measles.
I am a paediatric doctor working in the paediatric unit, KidzFirst, at Middlemore in South Auckland. The hospitalised babies with measles I have seen are miserable, lethargic, covered in a red rash with discharging eyes and intravenous leurs in their hand pumping fluids and antibiotics. Extremely sick, they stay in hospital for days and there is little we can do to ease their suffering.
But it isn't just these children who are suffering.
What I want to alert readers to is the magnitude of the suffering beyond the person infected. There are parents watching helplessly, siblings who still need their daily life to continue to run, extended whanau are worried. Nurses – already overworked – need to gown, glove and mask-up every time they check on a child with measles. And there are doctors, like me, hopelessly wishing we could do more to help.
I trained for six years at medical school and have been working as a doctor for more than seven years. I am skilled and motivated to help improve people's health and "fix" whatever medical problem they present with. But with measles, I can't do this.
Further salt in the wound is that I have children of similar ages to the patients I treat. Naturally, I empathise and feel deep compassion not only towards the children, but also the parents who experience this preventable suffering. Being at the coal face of this epidemic is challenging. Many healthcare professionals are exhausted with all the high emotions and medical limitations.
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Although I appreciate that people have free will in New Zealand concerning child vaccination, I can't agree with their decision not to vaccinate. It isn't fair that they can choose for so many people to suffer in order that "no apparent harm" comes to their own children.
To me, decisions not to vaccinate are terribly misinformed.
While no treatment exists for measles, it has been vaccine-preventable since the 1960s.
Recently a parent of a child with measles told me: "I have read your information and it is terrifying that measles may cause my child brain damage or worse kill my child." I reassured them and said "at this moment, your child has no evidence of encephalitis". But, to be honest, I don't think it is fair for any parent in these days of modern medicine to even have the thought cross their mind that their child could die or suffer brain damage from measles.
It is preventable. Please, immunise your children. Watch for signs of measles – fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), and/or tiny white spots with bluish-white centres on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek. If you are even a little bit unsure or concerned please see a doctor immediately.
• Dr Simone Watkins is a paediatric doctor working in South Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.