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Health officials from 21 nations last week announced an ambitious but crucial goal: the eradication of measles worldwide through intensive vaccination campaigns.

Measles have largely been eliminated in the U.S. and some other nations, but 1.5 million children, most in less developed nations, die of the disease annually.

The goal was announced at an international conference on measles immunization sponsored jointly by the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, and other medical associations and government agencies. To succeed, the plan would require an additional $225 million--an increase to $300 million from the current $75 million--in funding worldwide, according to an official from the World Health Organization.

Canada, Czechoslovakia, Costa Rica, Japan, Cuba, and some other nations have stringent immunization requirements. But many nations, some with the financial and medical resources to immunize their children, do not treat measles vaccinations' as necessary. "That approach [forced immunization] is an anathema to the English," said Dr. Samuel L. Katz, professor of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center. "They would never think of legislating such a thing."

Fewer teenagers are starting to smoke these days, but substantial numbers still take up the habit--even though they are perfectly aware of the hazards involved. A study conducted by Dorothy F. Corona, a health resercher from the University of Texas, suggests this may occur because among adolescents, insecurity, low self-esteem, anxiety and other traits triumph over the knowledge that smoking is hazardous to the health.

Of the 161 high-school students tested, 97 percent knew the habit was dangerous. The 18 percent who said they smoked anyway, Ms. Corona found upon administering personality tests to the group, had lower self-esteem, were more tense and anxious, and relied more on their friends when making decisions.

Levels of lead in the blood of children between 5 months and 17 years of age dropped by an average of 40 percent between February 1976 and February 1980, according to a new survey released by the Centers for Disease Control (cdc). Much of this change, which was found also at slightly lower levels in adults, can be attributed to the shift away from leaded gasoline, according to cdc officials.

Ironically, the agency's announcement of progress against lead toxicity comes at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is thinking of loosening restrictions on the use of leaded gasoline and pollution control devices on autos.

Even with those controls, the problem has become severe: Of the 502,900 children screened last year, 26,500 had toxic levels of lead in their blood. Lead poisoning in children is associated with loss of developmental skills, loss of appetite, clumsiness, apathy, lethargy, and hyper-irritability.

--By Susan Walton

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