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Public Health News Watch Wednesday: Report for May 17, 2017

Politicians and mainstream media pundits keep talking about “alternative facts”—and garnering a collective shrug from the medical community.
After all, differing “realities” and interpretations of existing science are as old as medicine itself. Indeed, cherry-picking and manipulating facts to support a specific agenda is hardly new.
“What is new is not mendacity but the public’s response to it—the growing primacy of emotional resonance over fact and evidence, the replacement of verification with social media algorithms that tell us what we want to hear,” Matthew d’Ancona, author of the book Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back, writes in a commentary published May 12, 2017 by the Guardian.
All of which is a fancy way of saying that, if we don’t like what we hear—from our doctors, our politicians, or the media—we tend to create a narrative we like better. And, perhaps the most recent example of this cognitive dissonance—and its consequences—centers around preventive vaccination for diseases such as measles.
As Contagion® reported on May 9, 2017, an ongoing measles outbreak in Minnesota has grown to include 48 cases (now 58), many of whom are Somali immigrants. At least 15 infected children have been hospitalized as a result of their illnesses. Officials in the state place the blame for the outbreak squarely on the shoulders of “anti-vaccine” activists, who have targeted the Somali community there after noticing that a high number of children from the African nation develop autism. Research linking autism with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine was published by former physician Andrew Wakefield in The Lancet in the late 1990s; however, it has since been debunked and declared fraudulent (and Wakefield has been stripped of his license to practice medicine).
“I want to be very clear that this outbreak has nothing to do with being Somali,” Kristen Ehresmann, RN, MPH, Director, Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division, Minnesota Department of Health, said in an interview with CNN. “It’s just the sheer fact of being unvaccinated…”
Recent measles outbreaks have also been reported in California and Arizona, among other regions, and most have been traced to the reluctance on the part of some parents to have their children vaccinated. While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics indicate that 91.5% majority of American children receive the MMR vaccine, which has been available and in use since the 1960s, when they are between 19 and 35 months old, a survey published last year by the journal PLoS One found that a “substantial minority” of parent respondents had refused (15%) or delayed (27%) measles vaccination for their children.

Influenza A (H3N2) has caused most of the illnesses in this severe flu season, but influenza B is becoming increasingly responsible for more infections as the flu season continues to hit the United States.