Until 1990, when vaccination for Haemophilus influenzae Type B (Hib) meningitis was introduced in the US, Hib meningitis was the most common form of meningitis in children under five. Before the development of effective antibiotic treatment the mortality rate was close to 100%. By the time my daughter was stricken in 1974 (as described HERE), the chance of recovery was dramatically improved, but up to 10% of cases were still fatal, and as many as 30% of survivors experienced serious long-term complications.
By some standards you could say we were lucky because our daughter survived intact. And yes, I get it that in such a dire situation a good outcome is infinitely preferable to a bad outcome.
Still, I have never really subscribed to the pollyanna-ish calculus of comforting oneself by thinking about how much worse it could have been. The agony experienced by victim and the prolonged misery and uncertainty endured by the helpless parents are reason enough in and of themselves to avoid this illness. To me the truly lucky parents, the truly blessed parents, are those whose children never contract Hib meningitis to begin with.
Now that this devastating disease can be prevented by vaccination, it is possible for virtually every parent to be that kind of lucky. Vaccination has reduced the incidence by 99%, to fewer than one case in 100,000 children under the age of five. By far the most important factor in determining whether exposed children develop Hib meningitis is their vaccination status. Let me repeat: BY FAR the most important factor in determining whether exposed children develop Hib meningitis is their vaccination status.
In other words, for children growing up in America today, contracting Hib meningitis is not just bad luck, it's also, in almost every instance, the consequence of a bad parental decision based on antiscientific misinformation.
I cannot even imagine how I would feel had my child contracted this disease and I knew I could have taken a simple step to protect her from ever getting it.
One more thing: In 1974, my pediatrician recognized what was wrong with my daughter within moments; he'd seen it many times before. Knowing the importance of speed in confirming the diagnosis and initiating treatment, he canceled all his appointments for rest of the morning and arrived at the hospital almost as soon as we did. Today, thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccine, many physicians have never seen even a single case of Hib meningitis - a good thing for public health but a problem for the unlucky unvaccinated child who turns up in the ER, where precious time may be lost in searching for the correct diagnosis. Something to think about.