For this blog, I would like to continue on the topic that Wesley de Jong started in his last blog on the 30th of April ‘Medical doctors become sick as well’ and would like to add that apparently even veterinarians get ill. So it seems that no one is spared from disease!
When I was 9 years old, my father was transferred to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia for work. Of course this is quite an adjustment and so my parents bribed me with what I wanted most; in Ethiopia they would give me my own dog. I had been begging them to give me a puppy for years and so my apprehension at leaving my country and my friends quickly changed to excitement for this new adventure. However, before we left we had to get vaccinated for every possible disease. I was less excited at the prospect of being repeated jabbed with a needle and I remember going to the Harbour Hospital in Rotterdam (the same hospital in which Marco Goeijenbier will be working soon!) and crying. I got a great cocktail of all sorts of inactivated and attenuated pathogens and had to come back 3 times. But after all that, I did get the puppy I had so desperately wanted. So the inconvenience was quickly forgotten and life continued as usual, except now it took place in a different continent.
After about two years in Ethiopia, I got ill. I was very tired, had an upset stomach, a high fever and the whites of my eyes turned yellow… My mother took me to one of the only functional clinics in Addis Abeba at the time and they diagnosed me with… Hepatitis A. But hold on, I had been vaccinated! and as Wesley mentioned, the vaccine is said to be almost 100% effective. How come I got the disease anyway? Maybe I was one of the unlucky few for which the vaccine doesn’t work? Maybe there was something wrong with the batch of the vaccine? Maybe my immune system was overwhelmed by all the different vaccines I got before I left? Whatever the cause, I recovered quickly and I should now be protected from re-infection.
Interestingly, this is not the only time this has happened to me. As those that were present at the opening day in Rotterdam will remember, I also got severely ill almost 20 years later when I was working in jungle in the Congo. This time I got typhoid fever, which is caused by a bacterium called Samonella typhi, and guess what? I had also been vaccinated for that! However this vaccine is known to be much less effective than the Hepatitis A vaccine, it provides only about 50-70% protection. I guess I was just one of the unlucky ones again, or maybe my immune system isn’t as strong as some people’s? Fortunately, I eventually also recovered from that episode and at the moment I feel pretty healthy!
So what if vaccination isn’t always effective? Maybe we have to take one step back and prevent the transmission of these diseases. Both Hepatitis A and typhoid fever are mostly spread through contaminated food and water and so hygiene during food preparation is of huge importance. Most of us have been raised with the importance of washing your hands frequently, but in many places, including the Congo, people are not at all aware how crucial this is. How do we change that? Education of course! Knowledge is the antidote!