Editorial: We’re not immune to misinformation

Up-to-date information is truly at our fingertips in these days of the World Wide Web.

With a couple of keystrokes or the tapping of a screen, a window is opened to a conversation with someone on the other side of the world, following events as they happen, finding one’s way or investigating the past, to name just a few of the possibilities. The Information Age, the American Heritage Dictionary tells us, is “the period beginning around 1970 ... noted for the abundant publication, consumption, and manipulation of information, especially by computers and computer networks.”

As we move further into the 21st century, the “Age” seems to be moving faster and getting easier to access.

It’s a period when information based upon facts and science is easily available — but so, too, is misinformation, skewed facts that can mislead and confuse.

If we think back to the times — not that long ago — before there were antibiotics and vaccines and diseases like polio or whooping cough were commonplace, and when outbreaks could quickly turn into health disasters, we shudder to think how many innocent lives were lost.

One of those viruses caused measles — once a typical trial of childhood that simply had to be endured. But the disease had a dark side. At one time, measles killed roughly 450 people a year here in the United States. Its cousin, rubella or German measles, could damage newborn children.

The discovery of vaccines that prevented such diseases, precluding death and other medical complications, was welcomed and lead to such declining number of cases that the medical profession saw that these diseases were eradicated in most of the world.

They are, however, making a comeback — and we can blame the anti-vaccination movement, which has latched on to the tools of the Information Age to spread misguided misinformation to the public with little or no facts or science to back up their opposition.

We see too many people willing to soak up opinions from celebrities or unqualified “experts” that lead to putting more people at risk.

Already there are more than 100 reported cases of measles in the first quarter of 2014 in the U.S. — compared to 189 cases in all of 2013. And measles isn’t the only disease that we’re seeing rebound. In 2010, 9,120 people in California contracted whooping cough, more than any year since 1947 — before vaccines. In studying this epidemic, health officials found that people didn’t have their children vaccinated, not because they didn’t have access to health care, but for personal non-health-related reasons.

The bottom line here is that a decision to opt out of vaccines that for decades have prevented diseases is creating a risk for many, many others, here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. If you want information, seek it out from your personal doctor. And if you use the Web, always consider the source.

And remember, opting out of a vaccination not only puts you or yours at risk, but also endangers your neighbors.

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