Measles was virtually eradicated from the United States in 2000, but last year the number of reported cases tripled—the highest number in nearly two decades.
This leaves many puzzled and asking the question: why the sudden change?
Jason McDonald, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the main reason stems from the alarming number of parents in the U.S. not vaccinating their children.
“If you are unvaccinated and you come in contact with measles, there’s a 90% chance you will get it,” according to McDonald.
This is a concern since vaccinated people can carry the disease and when they come into contact with unvaccinated people these people contract the illness. “Ninety percent of the time unvaccinated people get the illness” said Dr. Greg Wallace, Head of the CDC Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Polio team.
While measles was all but eliminated in the US for the last decade, throughout the world the disease is still very common. Those not protected against the disease are at risk of getting infected when traveling abroad and then transporting measles back to the US to infect others. The unvaccinated put themselves, and others, at risk for measles and its serious complications.
The last four years, outbreaks are popping up throughout the country—this map shows outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases since 2008 (click through the ‘filters’ in the upper right-hand corner to cycle through diseases and locations).
What is Measles?
Measles, or rubeola, is an extremely contagious infection of the respiratory system, immune system, and skin. The following symptoms usually develop within a week or two after exposure to an infected person.
- Blotchy rash
- Runny nose
- Red, watery eyes
- Feeling run down, achy
- Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth
Measles is certainly unpleasant, but it can also be quite dangerous, especially for young children. As many as one in three people with measles develop complications that can include: pneumonia, miscarriage, brain inflammation, hospitalization and even death. Infants under one year of age and people who have a weakened immune system are at highest risk of severe complications.
Measles is the most contagious of the vaccinated diseases. Live attenuated measles virus vaccine is incorporated into combination measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccines. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are required—the first is administered between 12-15 months and the second when the child is between 4 and 6 years old.
Why People Don’t Vaccinate
You may be asking yourself, “why would someone be against vaccinating their child against infectious diseases?”
Well, some of the reasons include religious beliefs, fears that vaccines contain chemicals or other poisons, a lack of trust of the government and large pharmaceutical companies, and a fear that vaccinations are connected to autism diagnoses.
An article from U.S. News and World Report laid it out clearly:
“At the end of the day, it is the parents’ choice. But folks do need to understand that it’s a choice that not only impacts that individual child. It has implications for others who are around that child,” says Dr. Kristine Sheedy, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. ‘We are a victim of our own success. We’ve made these diseases disappear for the average person so the outcome of that is that parents don’t necessarily feel threatened, they don’t feel that urgency to get vaccinated.’”
What About the Rest of the World?
If you looked closely at the map from earlier you’ll notice that measles is far from elimination on a global scale, but it’s getting there. Global vaccination coverage has grown from 72% in 2001 to just over 84% in 2013 and nearly every country in the world has committed to completely eradicate the disease by 2020. Learn more and contribute to the global vaccination cause, here.
Update: 2015 Measles Outbreak
While the number of reported measles cases grew last year to record-breaking highs (with more than 600 reported cases from 27 states), it seems that the outbreak is showing no signs of stopping in 2015.
According to the CDC, 121 people from 17 states and Washington DC have been infected with measles this year; many of whom (roughly 85 percent) are believed to be linked to an outbreak originating in California. Most of the people who were infected did not get vaccinated.
From January 1 to February 6, 2015, the number of reported measles cases includes:
- AZ (7)
- CA (88)
- CO (1)
- DC (1)
- DE (1)
- IL (3)
- MI (1)
- MN (1)
- NE (2)
- NJ (1)
- NY (2)
- NV (2)
- OR (1)
- PA (1)
- SD (2)
- TX (1)
- UT (2)
- WA (4)
Protecting Against the 2015 Measles Outbreak
Authorities are urging people to get vaccinated to prevent the spread of measles, which can spread rapidly in areas where people are not vaccinated. A single dose of the measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective and two doses is about 97 percent effective, according to the CDC.
Because the measles is still prevalent in other countries such as Europe, Asia, and Africa, the CDC says there’s a risk of travelers bringing the disease back into the US for years to come.
If you haven’t been vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine right away to protect yourself. Be sure to contact your doctor for your vaccination records if you’re unsure whether you’re protected.