Endemic! Week: Inoculation

Today concludes Endemic! Week: an entire week of microfiction crafted around the word “endemic.” If you missed the introduction, read about it here.


One by one, all my friends succumbed to the illness. But stick to my plan and you’ll stay healthy like me. It takes a regimented set of inoculations to prevent an outbreak.

The pustules are the first symptom, pockmarking the skin like geysers. Then the diseased patients emit a rank odor. Finally, a grotesque transformation begins: arms and legs shoot out at awkward angles. Tumors form. Thick hair grows in the most unspeakable places.

Before you know it, all they want to talk about is boys.

I warned them this would happen if they didn’t keep their cootie shots up-to-date.


Vaccine research
Vaccine research (Photo credit: Novartis AG)

Contrary to what my friends told me in elementary school, boys do not have the cooties and I didn’t need to get a cootie shot to protect myself from them. Nor will the cootie shot prevent puberty; you’re doomed to get that awkward armpit stench eventually. They were right, though, that inoculation is an effective approach for counteracting common diseases that are endemic to certain populations.

Measles, for example, used to be endemic throughout the Americas. Enough people had measles that the disease became self-sustaining; outbreaks occurred each year like clockwork, killing off those not strong enough to fight off the illness. But check out what happened in England when the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine was introduced:

Reported cases of measles in England and Wales...
Reported cases of measles in England and Wales from 1940–2007. The graph shows the bi-annual cycle of epidemics that followed the war. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

See that sudden drop-off? Very cool! Measles outbreaks still occur in North America from time to time as a result of international travel and reduced herd immunity resulting from the anti-vaccination movement, but we are lucky that measles is no longer endemic. That means, for the moment at least, there are not enough measles cases for the disease to perpetuate itself without new cases being introduced from outside the region.

Varicella, or chickenpox, is a common childhood disease endemic throughout the whole world. Most of you reading this blog have probably had it. Back in 1974, Michiaki Takahashi developed a vaccine, which over time has become routine for children in the US. Speaking as a kid who got chickenpox on the day of my birthday party, I say good riddance. I’m glad to know that some of the younger folks out there have grown up without having anything to do with an oatmeal bath.

Pertussis bacteria (Bordetella pertussis)
Pertussis bacteria (Bordetella pertussis) (Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

Pertussis (whooping cough), another once-endemic disease, is making a comeback in the First World.  In 2012, whooping cough outbreaks reached epidemic status in Washington State, Vermont, and Wisconsin. There are a few reasons for this resurgence. The anti-vax movement has had a hand in the outbreaks, as have the failure of adults to get booster shots after routine vaccination as children. Also, there is some evidence that the more recent batches of the vaccine wear off sooner than scientists expected, meaning school-age children might need a booster sooner than scheduled.

So make sure you keep your boosters up-to-date. Otherwise, you’re going to get hair in unspeakable places.

Chickenpox vets, got any interesting memories of everyone’s favorite childhood endemic disease?

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