Measles On The Rise: US Cases Reach The Highest In 25 years

The Needle | Dr. Partha Sarathi Sahana | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alarmingly increasing number of measles cases in the United States — gaining the highest incidence for the past 25 years.

Measles also referred to as Rubeola, is a vaccine-preventable infection that is caused by a virus. It is characterized by a fever that worsens through time, coughing, runny nose, or conjunctivitis. Rashes in the mucous membranes of the mouth are also strongly associated with the disease. The disease is very contagious that if one person is affected, about 90% of the people that have become in contact with that affected person who is not vaccinated will also become infected.

It was declared effectively eliminated in the year 2000 through the widespread use of highly effective measles vaccine and better identification and containment of cases.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported about 971 cases of measles in 26 states in the US from January 1 to May 30 of this year — threatening the nation’s elimination status.

Preparing a measles vaccine in Ethiopia
Flickr | DFID – UK Department for International Development
CC BY 2.0

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told BBC that “If these outbreaks continue through summer and fall, the United States may lose its measles elimination status. That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health.”

Before the measles elimination status in the US, the CDC reported that measles cases in the US alone reach up to 3 to 4 million every year. Further, approximately 48,000 people were hospitalized, and about 400 to 500 people succumbed to death yearly.

The highest cases of measles this 2019 could be attributed to the few large outbreaks in Washington State and New York. The CDC considers these outbreaks as one of the largest and longest lasting outbreaks since measles elimination in 2000. A possible reason for the outbreaks was that there were many unvaccinated travelers who visited the US and may have contracted the disease elsewhere. The problem is magnified when the population affected are mostly unvaccinated individuals.

Since the disease is common among children, most of the cases reported are from unvaccinated school-age children due to parents’ refusal caused by the misconception that vaccines contain ingredients that cause autism. Previous evidence-based studies published refutes this misinterpretation to educate parents. However, widespread proliferation remains up to this day.

The misconception about vaccines potentially causing autism in children could be traced back to 1998 when a fraudulent study published by a discredited British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, suggested that the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine is linked to autism. Later on, the study was withdrawn by the former doctor’s co-authors and the journal, as stated in Time.

As what CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said, “Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated. Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe; they do not cause autism. The greater danger is the disease the vaccination prevents.” He also stressed the fact that “your decision to vaccinate will protect your family’s health and your community’s well-being. CDC will continue working with public health responders across our nation to bring this outbreak to an end.”

This current alarming issue that measles is causing large outbreaks is not only evident in the United States but other countries as well. According to the WHO, there are also reported outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand, and Ukraine. There were also a lot of reported measles-related deaths, especially among children.

If the outbreak were prevented and controlled earlier on in its course, the deaths would have been avoided. The importance of routine measles vaccination and mass vaccination campaigns cannot be any more emphasized in these times of crisis by the healthcare workers and organizations, as well as, prevention of the spread of misinformation regarding vaccines.

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