In today's digital era, access to inexpensive technology means that anyone can create a professional-looking website and post information, photographs, and videos to the Web. The ability to judge whether or not information is reliable and credible can help you to reach good conclusions or decide when or how to take action. At an extreme, it could save your life.
This week, we take a look at the measles outbreak. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), the current outbreak is the most serious the nation has seen in the last 25 years. From January 1 to May 31, 981 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 26 states. That's 41 cases more than the week before.
"In general, we actually have really good vaccination rates for the measles, and have considered it eradicated in the U.S. for many years," said Dr. Valerie Cluzet, an infectious diseases consultant and medical director of infection control and antibiotic stewardship at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "We're actually moving to the point where that may not be true with this outbreak, but we're not quite there yet."
Cluzet said education is the best way to combat common myths and misconceptions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations. That's why I made this multiple choice quiz based on information from my interview with Cluzet and the CDC website. Take it to find out if you have the knowledge to outrun the measles outbreak, or if you'll stumble at the start.
1) You're not up to date with your vaccines. You get a runny nose along with a painful cough and aching joints. A few days have gone by, and it gets worse. How do you respond?
A. Whatever. The vaccine's side effects are worse than a little rash.
B. This happens all the time, and it's never anything big. I'm texting my friends to see if they want to hang out.
C. There are arguments all over the internet in favor or and against vaccines. I don't know what to believe.
D. I may be overreacting, but my research told me that measles can cause paralysis, blindness, brain damage, or even death. I need a trip to my doctor, who can check my vaccination status and rule out a nasty infection or deadly disease.
2) Your best friend is going abroad this summer, and her family offered to take you. They aren't vaccinated, and you aren't either. You read somewhere that international outbreaks have caused the U.S. outbreaks as people traveling to or from those countries get infected and bring the virus back. How do you respond?
A. I heard that getting infected naturally is better than immunizations. No big deal if I get it. There's no way I'm not going on this trip.
B. Wasn't there an outbreak in Disneyland a few years ago? People in California seem just fine to me. These scare tactics are clearly designed to keep obnoxious vacationers away.
C. It can't be all that bad. If I do get sick, I can get vaccinated as soon as I get back. Right?
D. Besides measles, there are lots of other infections I could get while traveling. The CDC website has lots of information about travel health and vaccine recommendations. Maybe I'll check with my doctor and tell her where I'm planning to go.
3) Your parents believe vaccines are dangerous. No one in your family is vaccinated, but some people say your vaccination status is putting their health at risk. How do you respond?
A. No thanks. Vaccines are full of nasty ingredients, like formaldehyde – and thimerosal, which causes autism.
B. Most people in my community don't believe in getting vaccinated. We can't all be wrong.
C. Have you seen the thousands of adverse reactions reported on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) system? It's a government website, and anyone can make a report, so I know it's not biased.
D. According to the CDC, when an infected person coughs or sneezes, he or she can contaminate 90% of the unprotected people in a room as the virus remains in the air for about two hours, potentially infecting any unvaccinated person who breathes it in. This sounds kind of serious!
4) Your parents believe vaccines are okay, so long as they're careful. Even though this is the most brutal measles outbreak in years, your parents are not following the recommended vaccination schedule. How do you respond?
A. By spacing them out, I don't have to worry about overwhelming my immune system.
B. I've lived without the MMR vaccine all my life and never got sick. I must be immune by now.
C. It must be too late to do anything. Don't you have to get your vaccines as soon as you're born?
D. Some states allow minors to make certain medical decisions, but the rules are all different. I'll discuss it with my doctor, my school counselor, or another adult who can help me to communicate my wishes with my parents. My doctor said it's never too late to get caught up.
5) You live in a community where pockets of people are not vaccinated or undervaccinated. You want to spread awareness about the seriousness of the disease. How do you respond?
A. I'm just a kid. Who would listen to me? There's not much I can do.
B. My family has been vaccinated. It's not my problem and doesn't affect me.
C. Isn't it against the constitution to force people to vaccinate against their will? I don't want to violate anyone's civil rights.
D. Education is the way to go. I'll talk to everyone I know about how serious the outbreak is and encourage them to get the vaccine for themselves or family members – especially children, because they are the ones who get affected the most. The vaccine is really effective at preventing measles, so it's an easy way to stop the spread.
Mostly A's – Credulous.
You believe everything you hear. Please text me ASAP. I have a bridge for sale, and it's a real deal.
Mostly B's – Unlearned cynic.
You are skeptical and follow your own biases to make decisions. You should spend more time reading publications and websites that challenge your assumptions. Check out https://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html. That's a good place to start.
Mostly C's – Lost.
You need tips on how to evaluate evidence and sources, and how to analyze arguments. Check out the News Literacy Project at https://newslit.org/
Their games and quizzes can teach you the skills you need to become a smart, active consumer of news and other information.
Mostly D's – Information literate.
Can we get a round of applause! You know how important your health is. You don't hesitate to do your research, and trust what your doctor has to say. Your information literacy skills are pretty good, too, but there's always room for improvement. Don't let your guard down when it comes to evaluating what your read, hear, and see.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Adjoua Kirton, 14, is an iGeneration Youth reporter living in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Read more stories at igenerationyouth.com.