Measles…here it comes again


Just when we thought it was out, they pulled it back in. Yes, it looks like the childhood disease measles is on the rise again in the United States. According to recent updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2008;57:893-896) 131 cases of measles occurred from January-July 2008, the highest year-to-date number of measles cases in the United States since 1996.

Of these 131 cases, 91% were persons who were unvaccinated or who had an unknown vaccination status. 123 were US residents, including 80% under age 20; 112 were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status; 95 of these 112 (85%) were eligible for vaccination, and 63 of these 95 (66%) were unvaccinated because of philosophical or religious beliefs.

The only way people are protected from diseases such as measles is when the population achieves herd immunity. The more individuals vaccinated in a population, the lower the chances of coming in contact with an infected person. For measles, herd immunity requires about 85-90% of individuals be successfully vaccinated in order to protect those with weakened immune systems, kids too young to be vaccinated or the fringe groups who refuse to see the obvious benefits of being vaccinated.

Thinking getting measles isn’t so bad? Harmless spots, no?  In the United States prior to the availability of the vaccine in the mid-1960’s, an average of 450 people died from measles and about 4000 developed measles encephalitis annually.  No, that’s not just a coupla polka dots.

Yeah, but you’re figuring you don’t have to vaccinate your kids as long as most of the rest of us do, right? They’ll be protected by the herd, right? Are your kids ever going to leave the country to travel? Will they come in contact with other people who have traveled abroad? Of course. Protection cannot be expected in this manner.

Bottome line: please ensure your kids have received the recommended childhood vaccinations according to current guidelines and make sure anyone who is travelling is up-to-date on their measles vaccination. Oh, and if you’re thinking of not vaccinating your child, please discuss this thoroughly with at least two pediatricians — chances are your logic for doing so is faulty and a second opinion for making such a potentially dangerous decision to your child’s welfare is surely warranted.

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