Measles Here, Measles There

If you follow health news at all, you simply can’t ignore the fact that measles is showing up here, there and everywhere – from Minnesota , Utah and Vermont, to the New England Aquarium,
the Waldorf School in Charlottesville, VA, and even Dr. Bob Sears’ Facebook page.

The irony is that this blog is supported by Every Child By Two (ECBT) which was founded in 1991 as a result of a measles epidemic that killed nearly 150 people.  The goals of ECBT have been to raise awareness of the critical need for timely immunizations and to foster a systematic way to immunize all of America’s children by age two.

In the past 20 years, we have come so far.  In fact, in November 2002, measles was no longer considered an endemic disease in the Americas.  However, the current measles cases are reason for concern.  In the period from January 1st through May 20th, 2011, the U.S. has seen a record number of measles cases – 118 identified cases according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent report – and with more recent cases that number will most certainly grow throughout the remainder of the year.  So why, given the current situation, do we hear Dr. Bob telling the parent of an unvaccinated child that the measles outbreaks do not pose “much risk”?

Maybe it’s because 118 cases doesn’t sound like a lot to Dr. Bob and others.  And oh, by the way, no one has died…yet…though 47 of them were hospitalized.  However you look at it, the numbers indicate a concern.  We haven’t seen this many cases of measles since 1996.  Comparatively, in 2009, there were only a total of 71 cases of measles reported in the U.S. that year.  So why are we in this situation now?

Well, perhaps the answer lies with overall global health.  The CDC’s report has identified that 89% of the U.S. cases  this year have stemmed from infections acquired outside the U.S. – in places such as Europe and Southeast Asia, where measles cases are much higher. For instance, France has reported more than 7,500 cases from Jan through March this year and cases have been reported in 38 countries across the region, including outbreaks in Spain, Serbia,  Macedonia, and Turkey, among others. Maybe Americans should become more global minded when it comes to vaccine preventable diseases.

One way to do that would be to help fund vaccine initiatives in other countries.  Another way would be to educate people – especially during the busy summer travel season – of the presence of certain vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles, that are prevalent in other countries.

But what about the people who purposely choose to refrain from being vaccinated?  This is something we are seeing more recently, as opposed to when ECBT began 20 years ago.  Despite the fact that CDC reports have shown that widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases in the United States compared with the pre-vaccine era, we still have 89% of the current measles cases occurring in unvaccinated individuals.  Measles was once considered unheard of in the US, but now, the rise in cases demands close moderation to ensure that the decisions of  the unvaccinated few are contained so as not to negatively impact the health of the many.

Perhaps today’s featured Shot By Shot video will help remind readers of the simple precaution you can take to avoid measles.  Certainly, this mother would have prefered to have her child vaccinated than to watch her suffer with measles, which ultimately resulted in her hearing loss.

With measles showing up here and there, be sure to take precautions for yourself and your family.  Check to make sure you are up-to-date on your vaccinations and talk to you doctor, especially if you are planning to travel outside the United States any time soon.

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