Modern Measles

In 2000, the World Health Organization declared that measles had been eliminated in the United States. In 2019, the country is watching as the once eradicated disease makes its resurgence. The reason? A decrease in the number of people vaccinated against measles. As a result, new cases of the highly contagious disease have been cropping up all over the map.

What Is Measles?

The contagious disease is an airborne pathogen that spreads via respiratory droplets. If someone with measles exposes the air in a particular location, the disease can continue to survive and spread to other people for up to two hours. Once someone vulnerable to the disease contracts measles, there is no treatment. It must run its course.

Children, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised
are more likely to contract the disease. Measles is characterized by
the following symptoms:
• Distinctive blotchy red rash
• Congestion
• Fever
• Eye discharge
• Cough

In many cases, those who end up infected with measles are not under threat. The symptoms rear their ugly head, the person is uncomfortable and miserable for about a week, and things slowly get back to normal. The trouble, however, is when vulnerable individuals — babies and young children, in particular — are exposed to the virus. In severe cases, measles can be fatal.

When the measles vaccine was non-existent and contracting measles was a familiar occurrence, millions of people died from the disease. Thankfully, a safe vaccine called the MMR vaccine, which prevents measles, mumps, and rubella, was developed in the early ‘70s and was responsible for the sharp decrease in measles cases around the world. The vaccine not only prevents children and other individuals from contracting the potentially fatal condition, but there’s also evidence that it reduces overall child mortality.

Why Have Outbreaks Increased?

Parents aren’t just forgetting to vaccinate their children; many caregivers are purposely opting out altogether. And thus we’ve witnessed the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement.

While there is a wide breadth of research that shows that vaccines like the MMR are safe, a recent study shows that public campaigns backed by scientific evidence aren’t quite enough to sway the unconvinced. A Dartmouth college researcher, referring to a study done earlier this year, says “[t]he sheer force of factual, logical arguments around public health issues is just not enough to overcome hysteresis and human behavior.”

Many anti-vaxxers are adamant that there exists a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. The correlation, however, has long been debunked. Still, it seems that an associated negative perception with the vaccine has yet to be washed away from the memory of the greater public, which as the Dartmouth College research shows, makes it difficult to encourage and improve vaccination rates.

The Dangers of Decreasing Vaccinations and a Bit About Herd Immunity

So what if a handful of misguided people decide to leave their children unvaccinated? There’s an essential concept in epidemiology called herd immunity. Because measles is so contagious, it requires a higher level of vaccination than other diseases. If enough people are vaccinated against a pathogen, the population is said to exhibit herd immunity. This breaks down if the level of vaccinations falls below a certain level, however. It’s the reason it’s crucial you (or your child) get vaccinated even if you’re not considered vulnerable.

There are, evidently, persons who cannot be vaccinated because they are ill or too young to be vaccinated. Babies under 1 year, for instance, are highly susceptible to measles because the vaccine is not given to infants under 12 months. Because the vaccine is administered in two doses during childhood, there is also a portion of children who do not develop full immunity until the second vaccine, which leaves them vulnerable to the virus.

What the Future Holds

How do we change the minds of individuals who are skeptical and unwilling to vaccinate their children? Recent research published by the University of Idaho says that proximity to disease outbreaks may influence vaccination decisions. There’s also additional evidence that vaccine skeptics who are exposed to the realities of suffering from a preventable disease may be more likely to reconsider their position on vaccines.

The scientific and medical community, as well as related health organizations, is fighting hard to increase education around vaccinations, including the MMR vaccine. However, a new study published in the journal BMC Medicine explains that without policy change, the rise in measles cases is unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon. Without government policies that make vaccination compulsory, we’re likely to see
a serious global resurgence of this deadly childhood disease.

Diseases the U.S. has Eliminated

  1. Smallpox
    *Note: This disease has been eradicated.
    Cases Reported in Last 10 Years: 0
    Last Reported Case: 1978
  2. Polio
    Cases Reported in Last 10 Years: 0
    Last Reported Case: 1985
  3. Yellow Fever
    Cases Reported in Last 10 Years: 0
    Last Reported Case: 2002
  4. Diphtheria
    Cases Reported in Last 10 Years: 2
    Last Reported Case: 2014
  5. Rubella
    Cases Reported in Last 10 Years: 49
    Last Reported Case: 2017
  6. Measles
    Cases Reported in Last 10 Years: 3,270+
    Last Reported Case: 2019
  7. Malaria
    Cases Reported in Last 10 Years: 13,833+ (2009-16)
    Last Reported Case: 2019, presumably
Written by: Steph Coelho

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