The CDC works hard, but anti-vaxxers work harder. Being an anti-vaxxer is the coolest new way to endanger your child (and everyone else) in 2019. Unfortunately, it seems like choosing not to vaccinate kids is only growing in popularity. Measles, a disease once considered “eradicated” thanks to the measles vaccine from Maurice Hilleman in 1968, is making a guest appearance this year in cities like Portland and New York. The total number of cases in the first five months of 2019 outnumber the total number of cumulative cases anywhere in the last 25 years, leading the case to lose its classification as “eradicated.” Here’s the what, how, when, and why about measles and the outbreak of 2019.
Measles is an extremely contagious virus that is 100% preventable by the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. Measles symptoms begin the way a cold or the flu might with a runny nose, cough, and fever in the first 1-2 weeks after contracting the virus, but tell-tale signs include small, white spots in the back of the throat called “Koplik spots” and the measles rash. Complications from measles range anywhere from diarrhea to pneumonia to encephalitis, and those contracting the disease before the age of 5 or after 20 are more likely to experience complications.
Once upon a time, getting measles was as common and right-of-passage as getting the chickenpox is today. Measles vaccine history begins in the early 1900’s when most people had contracted the disease before they reached 15, and the United States usually recorded between 3 and 4 million measles cases by year. Measles is so unusual (or at least used to be) thanks to vaccine development in the mid-1900’s that paved the way for eradication of the disease in 2000. We can all thank widespread public health initiatives and vaccines for giving measles the boot, but why is measles rising from the dead?
The year 2019 alone has brought 1,095 cases of measles in only seven months with 18 new cases in the last week with no related deaths. Cases have showed up in more than half of the United States, but an unusually high concentration of cases exists in New York City and nearby Rockland County. Why so many cases? School-aged children whose parents failed to allow for them to receive the MMR vaccine for the fear the children might develop autism. The idea that vaccines cause autism, though debunked by multiple studies, exists as a primary catalyst for parents refusing a number of vaccines that has resulted in the reappearance of multiple diseases other than measles. Though the disease was considered basically eradicated until, well, now, unvaccinated international travelers, such as this eight-month old from California, are bringing back the disease as a souvenir for the rest of us to enjoy.
Recent measles outbreaks across the United States, particularly in New York and Oregon, are confirming our biggest fears are coming true thanks to the anti-vaxxing movement. With more cases recorded just this year than all together since 1993, measles is rising from the dead to make an appearance in the present and deem the disease no longer considered eradicated. One more time for the people in the back- you can prevent infecting your family and the community with measles by vaccinating your children.