Darla Shine, the outspoken wife of White House communications director Bill Shine, has been tweeting about childhood diseases, claiming that illnesses such as measles, mumps and chickenpox “keep you healthy & fight cancer.” Health experts warn that the claim is not true and adds to misinformation that could cause harm.
She added: “I had the
#Measles #Mumps #ChickenPox as a child and so did every kid I knew — Sadly my kids had #MMR so they will never have the life long natural immunity I have. Come breathe on me!”
Shine’s Twitter account has not been verified, but it notes that she is the wife of Bill Shine, “assistant to #POTUS.” The White House declined to comment about the tweets.
Shine’s tweets made the rounds as a grim report emerged from Madagascar: More than 900 children and young adults have died from measles over the past four months, Reuters reported.
The numbers came from the World Health Organization, which said Thursday that measles cases around the world almost doubled between 2017 and 2018 “amid rising severe and protracted outbreaks all over the planet, in poor and rich countries alike.”
In its announcement, WHO also addressed the myth that the measles vaccine has been linked to autism.
Katherine O’Brien, director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals at WHO, said in the bulletin that the myth, which stems from a study based on “erroneous data,” has been debunked.
Len Lichtenfeld, interim medical director of the American Cancer Society, told The Washington Post on Thursday there is no evidence that contracting measles makes a person healthier later in life or helps prevent cancer.
In addition, Lichtenfeld said, “It’s easy to forget the disease burden that came with measles when we were young.
“It is a real illness with real consequences,” he said. “Fortunately, for most people, those consequences were not serious, but it is an infection, and it can cause life-threatening events. It can cause pneumonia, and it can cause meningitis. Fortunately, those complications are rare but do occur — and children did die as a result of measles infections.
“I think over time, it becomes part of our past, and it tends to become less relevant and less important as we move along in time, and we forget how serious a problem it was for those who grew up in that generation.”
Researchers are increasingly concerned about a potentially deadly neurological disorder that can develop as a delayed complication of measles after the virus has been dormant in people’s bodies for numerous years.
Measles is highly contagious.
Before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, most children did contract the illness — an estimated 3 million to 4 million patients each year in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of those, 48,000 were hospitalized, 400 to 500 died and 1,000 others suffered from a severe complication known as encephalitis, a condition in which the brain swells because of an infection.
In 2000 — almost four decades after parents began vaccinating their children — measles was declared eliminated in the United States.
CDC data shows that from 2000 to 2018, there was an average of 140 measles cases per year in the United States. And there were three reported fatalities during that time — one in 2002, one in 2003 and one in 2015.
But there have been numerous outbreaks in recent years, amid an anti-vaccine movement that has been sustained, in part, by fraudulent research from 1998 that purported to show a link between a preservative used in vaccines and autism. In the measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, where anti-vaccine groups have long been active, nearly 60 cases have been reported in Washington and Oregon.
Numerous studies have provided conclusive evidence that vaccinations do not cause autism.
WHO recently named “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the “Ten threats to global health in 2019”:
The reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are complex; a vaccines advisory group to WHO identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence are key reasons underlying hesitancy. Health workers, especially those in communities, remain the most trusted advisor and influencer of vaccination decisions, and they must be supported to provide trusted, credible information on vaccines.
Amid backlash, Shine said on Twitter on Wednesday that she’s “Not sure why what I tweet is so interesting, I’m not a politician, I have no influence.”
Shine shared a CNN article about how doctors at the Mayo Clinic had given a cancer patient “a highly concentrated, lab-engineered measles virus similar to the measles vaccine,” and then the patient went into remission.
Lichtenfeld, with the American Cancer Society, said that the measles virus alone is not being used to treat cancer but, rather, a version that has been manipulated to specifically invade certain cancer cells.
“It’s far different in any way, shape or form from giving patients an illness in order to try to treat a cancer,” he said. “That is simply not what we do.
“Measles doesn’t protect us from cancer. Chickenpox doesn’t protect us from cancer,” Lichtenfeld added. “These are diseases that kill. These are diseases that used to affect millions upon millions of people, and it’s very easy to forget the lives that were lost or the lives that were impacted significantly as a result of the measles epidemic, because we tend for forget. We didn’t live through or we don’t remember it, or we weren’t aware of it. Let me assure you, it was a very serious disease, and we don’t need to see it come back.”