Why are measles coming back?

❝ We eliminated measles in the U.S. in 2000. Somebody should tell the measles. Because even though the virus has no permanent home stateside, it keeps getting in—more and more, it seems.

❝ If you were born in the U.S. after about 1968, you’ve lived your entire life with virtually no interaction with the measles. Consider yourself lucky. The virus causes fevers over 104°F, inflamed eyes, a cough, plus a rash that begins as tiny white spots and becomes an itchy red mass spreading outward from the head to cover your entire body. And that’s just your basic measles encounter. About 30 percent of measles patients get extra complications, including diarrhea, pneumonia, brain inflammation, and permanent blindness. In healthy areas, few people died of the disease—only about 0.3 percent—but in impoverished or malnourished populations that figure jumps up to around 30 percent.

❝ Before the measles vaccine, 3 to 4 million people got the disease every year and basically everyone had gotten it by age 15. That might sound like pretty good news. If everyone gets it as a kid, surely it’s like chicken pox—you get it, then you’re over it. In some ways, that’s right. But it also means that the potentially permanent complications (and the fatalities) disproportionately affect little kids.

❝ We’ve kind of forgotten what it’s like to live in a world where young children regularly get serious diseases. It’s difficult to notice an absence of deaths, so here’s some perspective: from 2000-2012, the measles vaccine saved about 13.8 million lives. If we continue the way we’re going, though, we might get a different perspective. From 1989-1991, measles saw a huge comeback because people weren’t getting vaccinated enough—and we may not be too far from that happening all over again.

We’re losing herd immunity and that’s sufficient to allow this childhood killer back. RTFA for sensible discussion. By now – if you’re a regular reader of this blog – I take it down to two questions: ignorance or stupidity.

In this instance, I’d say both. I grew up before vaccines were common in the US. Every spring the kids in our factory town sooner or later got round to figuring out who died over winter…and from what. I had measles and waltzed right through. My kid sister wasn’t so lucky. Ended up in hospital in an oxygen tent with pneumonia before she kicked it.

We also had to contend with scarlet fever, whooping cough, mumps, rheumatic fever and more. The summer was saved for polio.

5 thoughts on “Why are measles coming back?

  1. Mike says:

    “As Minnesota confronts its second measles outbreak in seven years, public health officials are battling to contain the disease while also trying to educate parents in the face of an organized opposition. As happened in 2011, anti-vaccine activists are reaching out to Minnesota’s Somali community, where both outbreaks have been centered, with messages that reinforce the discredited belief that vaccines cause autism.” http://www.startribune.com/in-minnesota-measles-outbreak-health-officials-fight-a-two-front-war/420786463/ “Ironically, just a few years ago Somali children in Minnesota had extremely high vaccination rates (higher than other kids in fact). Then, in 2008, an apparent cluster of autism cases among Somali children in Minneapolis prompted a scare based on a discredited theory involving the measles vaccine that was popularized 20 years earlier by British researcher Andrew Wakefield. For Somali 2-year-olds, immunization rates were as high as 92 percent in 2004, but today stand at just 42 percent.”

    • Doc says:

      “‘The clock is ticking’: WHO’s next chief faces sobering challenges” (5/25/17) https://www.statnews.com/2017/05/25/tedros-who-challenges/ “The [WHO] campaign to eradicate polio appears poised, after nearly 30 years, to end transmission of the paralyzing virus. There have been only five cases so far this year and there is hope that spread of the virus could be snuffed out in 2017 or early 2018 [see links]. Currently one out of every four dollars the WHO brings in is dedicated to the polio fight. In developing countries, a number of other programs piggyback off the polio money — for instance, routine childhood immunization efforts.”

  2. Theodoric of York says:

    “Just 150 more cases of measles could cost the US $2.1 million” https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/24/16019516/measles-vaccination-health-disease-outbreak-economics “For a study out today in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and estimated what could happen if vaccination rates keep dropping. Right now, 93 percent of kids ages two to 11 in the US are vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella. If that number dropped by 5 percent, it would lead to 150 more cases of measles. This might not sound like a lot, but it is actually a three-fold increase compared to the number of cases that exist now, and it could cost over $2 million from local and state public health institutions. (The cost covers things like lab analysis and transportation, for example.) The numbers would be even higher if they took into account people outside of that age range who aren’t vaccinated.”

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