In the decade prior to the introduction of the MMR vaccine to the US, it is estimated that more than 3 million people were infected with measles each year. The vaccine was mass distributed in 1963 and cases of the virus in the country were reduced by more than 99%. In 2000, measles transmission was declared eliminated. US citizens thereafter lived happily without measles for 14 years, with a few cases here and there from people who brought it back from other countries where the virus still thrives; but it wasn’t until this year that the virus started to make a comeback. The current measles outbreak began in Ohio in March and continues to spread. As of August, a total of 593 cases have been identified across the US, compared to 307 in May, indicating that the virus is still spreading. There were fewer than 200 cases during all of 2013 and about 50 in 2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the number of measles cases has almost tripled this year. "Measles has reached a 20-year high,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC. “This is not the kind of record we want to break.”

Measles causes fever, runny nose, a full-body rash, and possibly a cough. One out of 10 children with the virus will get an ear infection, 1 out of 20 will contract pneumonia, and out of every 1000 cases, 1 or 2 will die. Those who have the highest risk of developing complications or death are children under the age of 5 years and adults over the age of 20 years. The virus is highly contagious and can spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Measles isn’t an issue as long as people simply get the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, but a recent anti-vaccine campaign based on claims that the vaccine can lead to autism has diverted many people from getting vaccinated. Actress Jenny McCarthy influenced the public by claiming that vaccines cause autism, after her son was diagnosed with the disorder in 2007. By 2008, about 1 in 4 adults reported that they were familiar with McCarthy’s views about vaccines and 40% of them said her claims persuaded them to question the safety of vaccines. Other celebrities have also spoken out about vaccination concerns, including Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his wife, former reality TV star Kristin Cavallari, who recently said they won’t vaccinate their children because of fears about autism. Last fall, the CDC issued a report stating that 80% of recent measles cases occurred among unvaccinated people, most of whom cited “philosophical differences” with the MMR vaccine. “I hope that those who are vaccine hesitant or vaccine avoidant realize there are consequences to their actions,” said Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University. “None of us lives in isolation.”

The MMR vaccine is highly effective against measles and is the best protection against the virus. It is recommended that children receive their first dose at 12 to 15 months of age and the second at 4 to 5 years. Alliance Health Commissioner Randall Flint says that if people can’t remember if they had been vaccinated, there is no harm in getting the MMR vaccine again. Since measles was eliminated from the US in 2000, many outbreaks have originated after an unvaccinated person contracted the disease while travelling abroad. When infected individuals return to the county, they can spread the virus to other unvaccinated people. Health officials are urging unvaccinated individuals to get their shots, as just one case of the measles has the potential to pose a huge public health threat.

Reference

  1. Culp-Ressler T. Measles is spreading in our largest cities because people aren’t vaccinating their kids. Think Progress website. March 14, 2014. http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/03/14/3408461/measles-outbreaks-cities-vaccination/.
  2. Huffman L. Measles outbreak spreads, with 7 cases report in Stark. The Review website. July 25, 2014. http://www.the-review.com/local%20news/2014/07/25/measles-outbreak-spreads-with-7-cases-reported-in-stark.
  3. Measles. The History of Vaccines website. http://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/timelines/measles.