Tag: smallpox

Origins of a Name – Chickenpox

We know how a lot of diseases got their names, and it’s not always the kind of association that you might think.

For example, Fifth disease got its name because it was literally the 5th disease known to cause a fever and a rash!

“Measles is, he says, derived from the Dutch maseln (measles); the disease is also called in Holland mczsel-sucht, the measle-sickness; so translated by an old English writer. The literal sense is “small spots.”

Sykes On the Origin and History of Some Disease Names

And measles likely comes from the Dutch word for “small spots.”

So Why Do They Call It Chickenpox?

While that all makes perfect sense, one name that you likely don’t give much thought to, maybe because we don’t see it much anymore, is the name chickenpox.

How did we end up with the name chickenpox?

Did you ever think it was spread from chickens?

That it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus doesn’t really help understand the nickname. Nor does the fact that reactivation of chickenpox leads to shingles or herpes zoster.

“In 1767, an English doctor, William Heberden, realized two important things. First, he showed that chickenpox is different from the more deadly disease, smallpox. Second, he showed that once a person has had chickenpox, that person usually never gets it again (In other words, they’re immune for life). “

Case file: Blister Sisters

William Heberden wasn’t the first to study chickenpox though.

Was he the first to name it, in his paper, On the Chicken-Pox?

William Heberden doesn't provide any clues to how chickenpox got its name.
William Heberden doesn’t provide any clues to how chickenpox got its name.

Probably not…

  • the Charaka Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic text describes chickenpox
  • Giovanni Filippo Ingrassia – described chickenpox in the 16th Century
  • Dawud al-Antaki – talks about chickenpox in his book Tadhkirat Dawud in 1599, but considers it a benign form of smallpox
  • Richard Morton – also describes chickenpox as a mild form of smallpox in 1694
  • Thomas Fuller – wrote about chickenpox in his Exanthemologia in 1730
  • Samuel Johnson – described chickenpox in 1755 in his dictionary

So none of that really tells how why we ended up with the name chickenpox though, does it?

One big clue?

In 1886, Thomas Fagge claimed that the origin of the term chickenpox came from the word “chickpease,” because the early chickenpox rash looks like a chickpea…

One thing is clear though. Chickenpox has been around a long time, but fortunately can now be easily prevented with the chickenpox vaccine.

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Would Osler Stand for Anti-Vaccine Folks Using His Famous Quote?

I often find myself having to reset my irony meter after reading some of the anti-vacccine memes and posts that people send me.

Like when anti-vaccine folks quote the Founding Fathers

Would Osler Stand for Anti-Vaccine Folks Using His Famous Quote?

Or they quote William Osler…

You remember William Osler, don’t you?

In 1910, as smallpox outbreaks continued and anti-vaccine folks made it harder to get folks vaccinated, he wrote:

“I would like to issue a Mount-Carmel-like challenge to any ten unvaccinated priests of Baal. I will go into the next severe epidemic with ten selected, vaccinated persons and ten selected unvaccinated persons – I should prefer to choose the latter – three members of Parliament, three anti-vaccination doctors (if they can be found), and four anti-vaccination propagandists.

And I will make this promise – neither to jeer nor jibe when they catch the disease, but to look after them as brothers, and for the four or five who are certain to die, I will try to arrange the funerals with all the pomp and ceremony of an anti-vaccination demonstration.”

William Osler on Man’s Redemption of Man

Want to vote on whether Osler would pick Jim Meehan to be one of the anti-vaccination doctors for his challenge?

Anyway, the Osler quote that Meehan posted, about not taking medicine, doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.

Osler wasn’t telling folks to not take any medicines.

“Osler himself prescribed relatively few drugs, his basic armamentarium consisting of quinine for malaria, digitalis for heart failure, opiates for pain and coughs, and iron and arsenic for anemia.”

Would Osler stand by his famous quote today?

He just meant that folks should avoid medicines that weren’t necessary and had no chance of working. Medicines, at the time, which often did more harm than good.

While you likely could apply his statement to the overuse of antibiotics, he certainly wasn’t talking about vaccines!

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Vaccines and Mother’s Day

Last year, we found several connections between Father’s Day and vaccines, especially that Maurice Hilleman has often been called the father of modern vaccines.

Is there a mother of modern vaccines?

Vaccines and Mother’s Day

Does it have to be modern vaccines?

Of course, the first person that comes to mind is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who learned about smallpox inoculation in Turkey and used it to protect her own children, also advocating for more general use in England.

But that involved variolation, not vaccination.

So who could be the mother of vaccines?

How about the person who “has done more for immunizations that any one person in this whole country?”

Betty Bumpers was a champion in our efforts to reduce the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases among children in the United States.  She played a major leadership role as 1st Lady of Arkansas in improving immunization in that state and was inspirational in launching the first major Presidential Initiative on Immunization during the late 1970s.  She continued to be a major immunization advocate through much of her life launching “Every Child By Two (ECBT)” which she chaired along with Mrs. Rosalyn Carter, now “Vaccinate Your Family”.

Walter Orenstein

And to honor her, let’s continue her work

Before vaccines, this mother and all of her kids got polio...
Before vaccines, this mother and all of her kids got polio…

For as Betty Bumpers said, “only when every child has completed his or her series of immunizations will our job be completed.”

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Too Many Too Soon Revisited

You know how anti-vaccine folks like to say that kids get too many vaccines at too early an age these days?

Four generations of vaccines or vaccine misinformation?
Four generations of vaccines or vaccine misinformation?

It’s not like the ‘good old days,’ when instead of more vaccines, they just got more diseases.

But looking at the immunization schedules from the 1950s and 1960s, you should know that folks back then got a lot more vaccine doses than you have been led to believe.

Too Many Too Soon Revisited

And you know what else? Those vaccines include the “crude brew” of DPT and smallpox, which contained far more antigens per vaccine than today’s vaccines.

The 1951 immunization schedule published by the AAP.
The 1951 immunization schedule published by the AAP.

By six months, these kids got the smallpox vaccine (200 antigens) and three doses of DPT (3,002 antigens), for a total of 9,206 antigens.

And today?

They could get up to about 174 antigens, including

  • DTaP: 7 antigens * 3 doses = 21 antigens
  • IPV: 15 antigens * 3 doses = 45 antigens
  • Hib: 2 antigens * 3 doses = 6 antigens
  • Prevnar13: 14 antigens * 3 doses = 42 antigens
  • hepatitis B: 1 antigen * 3 doses = 3 antigens
  • rotavirus: 15 antigens * 3 doses = 45 antigens
  • Flu: 12 antigens * 1 dose = 12 antigens

That’s 9,032 fewer antigens or less than 2% of what they once got, even though they are protected against many more diseases!

Not worried about antigens anymore?

Just remember that in the 1950s, in addition to all of these extra antigens, except for smallpox, these vaccines were made with thimerosal and aluminum.

Not that those ingredients were dangerous then, or today. It’s just more recently that folks decided that they were scary.

But it is just important to keep in mind that it is misleading to say that kids only got 2 vaccines then, and now get 69, 72, or 74.

In fact, it’s not just misleading, it’s lying.

If you use the same anti-vaccine math, in the 1950s, they actually got at least 22 doses by age 9 or 10! And they got even more once the polio vaccine was introduced in 1955.

Vaccines don't destroy your life force...
Vaccines don’t destroy your life-force…

Anti-vaccine folks still try to downplay the number of doses of vaccines folks got back in the 1950s and 1960s though.

Why?

To scare you.

Kids do get more vaccines, but they have far fewer antigens, and more vaccines means more protection against more diseases.

In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, kids were dying of diseases that are now vaccine preventable, including rotavirus, hepatitis A and B, chicken pox, pneumococcal meningitis, epiglottitis, Hib meningitis, and meningococcal meningitis, etc.

What about the idea that all of the extra vaccine doses were added right after the passage of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986?

Believe it or not, it was almost nine years, 1995, before a new vaccine (Varivax) was added to the immunization schedule. Others were slowly added after that, including:

  • hepatitis A (1996)
  • rotavirus (1998)
  • Prevnar (2000)
  • Menactra (2006)
  • Tdap (2006)
  • Gardasil (2006)

The biggest change? The one that helps boost the numbers of doses so that anti-vaccine folks can try and say that kids get 72 doses of vaccines?

That was when we started recommending flu shots for healthy kids, beginning with infants for the 2004-05 flu season. Remember, nearly a third of their list is just flu shots…

What about Hib and Hep B? They were both added right before the passage of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.

Guess what?

Nothing about their little anti-vaccine memes are true.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are necessary.

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