Thanks in part to the hard work of celebrity cranks and social media bots, anti-vaccine conspiracies are only getting stronger. So it's no surprise that measles – a highly contagious, yet highly preventable, disease – is turning up in frankly terrifying levels in the US despite being declared eliminated nearly two decades ago.
In the face of this public health issue, you'd think medical professionals would be among the first to promote the benefits of vaccination. However, a nurse from Texas has been investigated and discharged this week after she wrote a shocking post about a toddler's measles case on the anti-vaxxer Facebook group "Proud Parents of Unvaccinated Children – Texas". The group is no longer publically accessible.
Even more horrifyingly, she even described how she considered infecting her own child with the disease - not only putting them in danger, but potentially causing an outbreak in the wider community.
"So quite a few people know I'm a nurse," she wrote. "And for the first time in my career, I saw measles this week."
Although anti-vaxxers would have you believe otherwise, measles is a pretty horrific disease – that's probably why people old enough to remember a time before vaccinations overwhelmingly support making them mandatory. For the nurse, the case was eye-opening.
"[H]onestly, it was rough," she wrote. "The kid was super sick."
Describing how the young boy had been admitted to intensive care due to his illness, the nurse told group members how she "... couldn't touch him without him crying/moaning in pain. It was terrible."
"I think it's easy for us nonvaxxers to make assumptions but most of us have never and will never see one of these diseases," she remarked.
Although there is some research to suggest that being confronted with the consequences of non-vaccination can counteract anti-vax beliefs, the nurse insisted her views have not changed, even commenting that she "thought about swabbing his mouth and bringing it home to [her 13-year-old child] :) "
"By no means have I changed my vax stance, and I never will," she wrote in her post. "I just wanted to share my experience and how much worse it was than I expected."
After a concerned parent shared screenshots of the post and comments to the Facebook page of the Texas Children's Hospital where the boy is being treated, the nurse was placed under investigation for sharing protected patient health information.
Four days later, she was discharged.
"We take these matters very seriously as the privacy and well-being of our patients is always a top priority," the hospital said in a statement. "After an internal investigation, this individual is no longer with the organization."
"The views of this employee do not represent that of the organization," they confirmed on Facebook.
This case sees the total number of measles infections in Texas rise to eight this year. And in a bitter twist of irony, the nurse's own ideology may well be directly to blame for the toddler's condition: although the rest of his family had received measles vaccinations, ABC reports that the boy was too young for the procedure – making him reliant on the herd immunity that anti-vaccine campaigners threaten.
"If you don't believe in vaccines, you probably shouldn't go into pediatrics," UT McGovern Medical School's Assistant Director of Humanities and Ethics Professor Rebecca Lunstroth told ABC."[T]his is the standard and if you don't believe in the standard, you should probably go into another practice."