In case you haven’t heard, there are some serious measles outbreaks going on in this country. In the first four months of this year, 161 people have been diagnosed with this vaccine-preventable infection in 15 separate outbreaks, including 66 cases among unvaccinated Amish Americans from Ohio. JoNel Aleccia notes that Ohio now has the highest number of reported cases, followed by California (59) and New York (26):
The [Ohio] outbreak has been traced to unvaccinated Amish aid workers who traveled to the Philippines on a volunteer mission to help with typhoon recovery — and returned to spread measles to family members, who in turn gave it to others. The Philippines is in the midst of a measles outbreak that has sickened more than 26,000 and killed more than 40, according to the World Health Organization.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reports two confirmed cases of measles in this month:
Case 1, eight-month old infant, is a resident of Monroe County who recently returned from a two month stay in Pakistan.
Case 2 is a 39 year old Allegheny County Resident who works in Beaver County.
Pediatrician Vincent Iannelli, who has been following measles outbreaks and cases for the past few years (the numbers in three of the last four years have been particularly high), exposes one trend:
Very few of the measles cases in these outbreaks are in people who are completely vaccinated. For example, in the outbreaks in Europe in 2011, when 30,000 people got measles, causing 8 deaths, 27 cases of measles encephalitis, and 1,482 cases of pneumonia, most cases were in unvaccinated (82%) or incompletely vaccinated (13%) people.
The paramyxovirus that causes measles is a highly infectious respiratory virus. Also known as rubeola — not to be confused with rubella (German measles) and roseola — measles causes symptoms of fever, runny nose (coryza), cough, and conjunctivitis (medical students learn about these “3 C’s” of measles), followed by the classic, diffuse morbilliform (measles-like) rash. Severe and potentially fatal complications include pneumonia and encephalitis. Before measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, nearly all children in the U.S. developed measles before the age of 15; 40,000 people per year were hospitalized; 7,000 had seizures; 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage or hearing loss; and 500 died. Worldwide, measles is still a scourge, infecting 20 million people each year and killing 164,000 (more than half in India).
Immunization against measles is available in the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. MMR — given as a two-dose series (at age 12 months and again at 5 years of age) is effective, safe, and DOES NOT CAUSE AUTISM.
Failure to vaccinate children increases their chances of contracting measles and its concomitant complications in this small world we live in. Some parents decline MMR (and other vaccines) in the misguided belief that their children won’t get infected or that even if they do, natural infection will be benign. This worries Julia Shaklee Sammons, M.D.:
As more parents decline to vaccinate their children, measles incidence is increasing—a fact that alarms me both as a hospital epidemiologist and as a parent of a vulnerable infant too young to receive the measles vaccine.
We should all be alarmed.