Measles & The Mighty Ducks

NDSU Microbiology
by NDSU Microbiology

Guest Blogger, Jon Cobb, Undergraduate in Microbiology

I grew up as a hockey player in Minnesota, which means I naturally fell in love with the entire Mighty Ducks movie trilogy from the 90’s. Coach Gordon Bombay seemed like a mentor to me, and I always dreamed of myself scoring a championship winning goal just as Charlie Conway had in the first Mighty Ducks movie. My teammates and I would all try to replicate the awesome goals that we saw in all the movies. We would perform triple dekes like Charlie Conway, blistering slap shots like Fulton Reed and of course the legendary knuckle puck of Russ Tyler. It was tough to be accurate with the knuckle puck, but it drove the goalies crazy, and of course, the coaches as well.

After I matured, I realized that the movies were totally inaccurate and somewhat of a joke, but I still can’t help but watch them at least once a year with some of my high school hockey buddies - for a laugh or feeling of nostalgia or whatever. Even in college, my friends and I keep the legend of the Mighty Ducks alive by calling our intramural basketball team the District 5 Ducks and wearing replica jersey shirts with different movie character names on the back.

The last time I watched the first movie, I noticed that they mentioned that one of the teams that they were competing against to make the playoffs had come down with the measles and had to forfeit their season. Knowing that the movie ends with the District 5 Ducks hoisting up the championship trophy, I was forced to realize that if it were not for the measles virus, my favorite fictional hockey team would have never been crowned the Minnesota State Pee Wee Hockey Champions.

I did not know much about the measles except that it is a disease caused by a virus that often affects children; so I wanted to learn a thing or two about this virus that sickened an entire team to the point of ending their season. For all I know, Disney may have really thought this plot point through; however, maybe they just picked any disease that commonly affects children.

Measles is a respiratory illness that is one of the most highly contagious diseases known. According to the CDC, about 100,000 children are killed worldwide each year because of measles. The symptoms of measles usually consist of a cough, rash, conjunctivitis, and fever. Possible complications from the measles virus are pneumonia and encephalitis. Like polio, any disease that affects primarily children is made a priority to stop. About 50 years ago, an attenuated vaccine was created, and these days the use of the vaccine is widespread and common. Usually, kids are vaccinated within their first 18 months of life.

It is unlikely that a team of eleven- and twelve-year-olds would come down with an outbreak of the measles because by 1992, when the movie was made, the vaccine for the measles was widespread in countries like the United States. In 1992, the CDC recorded the median age of cases with measles to be 4.9 years of age. Also in 1992, there were 2,200 cases recorded by the CDC, which was a 77% decrease of cases from the previous year. Although Disney appears to have just chosen a viral disease to give the protagonists a shot at winning the championship without really thinking the probability of it through, there is still some merit to the scenario. Assuming that a team of twelve-year-old kids had never been vaccinated for the measles, it would be very likely that the entire team would come down with an infection. About 90% of unvaccinated persons will get infected if they live with an infected individual. If a team were in close quarters - in the locker room, on the ice or even sharing water bottles - all season long, then it would be likely that the virus would spread to most if not all of the players.

On a more serious note, however, measles is the #1 cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the world. It costs less than $1 to vaccinate an infant and there really is no reason why people should choose not to vaccinate their children against the virus. Already in the U.S. in 2013, there have been 175 confirmed cases of the measles, which is about triple the usual number in years past. Ninety-eight percent of these cases occureed in an unvaccinated individual. In my opinion, there is no reason why measles cannot be eradicated from the world.

This entry is part of the fall MICR 354 scientific writing students' blog series.

Image: Jon Cobb.