Dr. Don Donahue on the Rise of Measles in the U.S. – Why Risk Exposure?

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For those of a certain age, childhood diseases such as measles were a routine matter. What fades from memory – and from the exhortations of those opposed to vaccination – are the complications.

Dr Don Donahue

Author: Dr. Don Donahue

These complications can affect anyone, but are more pronounced in children younger than five years of age and adults over 20. One in 10 children with measles will experience ear infections, possibly leading to permanent hearing loss. Five percent of children with measles will contract pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children. About one child out of every 1,000 who contracts measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die. Measles may cause pregnant woman to give birth prematurely or have a low-birth-weight baby.

Prior to widespread immunization, measles outbreaks were common, causing some 500 deaths annually; dropping from the early 20th Century toll of 6000 a year, largely due to advances in medical care. Measles were eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but continue to appear when imported from overseas. Significant outbreaks have occurred in 2013, 2014 and 2015, primarily among unvaccinated populations with some contact with international travelers.

From January 1 to April 22, 2017, 61 people from 10 states (California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington) were reported to have measles. Since April, 50 additional cases have been reported in Minnesota among Somalis who have been led to believe that vaccines cause autism and other maladies, resulting in only 42% of that population being vaccinated.

No vaccine is entirely safe. The rate of adverse reactions for the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is less than one in 100,000. Compare this with two deaths in 1000 cases, and the value of immunization is clear.

The problem arises when unvaccinated people travel to places where measles is still common, which encompasses large parts of the world. Returning to the United States, these travelers carry the virus, which spreads via coughing and sneezing. Measles is so contagious that one person will infect 90% of those close to that person who are not immune.

CDC considers you protected from measles if:

  • You received two doses of measles-containing vaccine, and you are a(n)—
    • school-aged child (grades K-12)
    • adult who will be in a setting that poses a high risk for measles transmission, including students at post-high school education institutions, healthcare personnel, and international travelers.
  • You received one dose of measles-containing vaccine, and you are a(n)—
    • preschool-aged child
    • adult who will not be in a high-risk setting for measles transmission.
  • A laboratory confirmed that you had measles at some point in your life.
  • A laboratory confirmed that you are immune to measles.
  • You were born before 1957.

The vaccination for measles is safe, effective and readily available. Which leads to two questions for those traveling overseas.

  1. Why would you risk exposure?
  2. Why would you risk exposing others upon your return?

Making a child, expectant mother, or co-worker miserable with the symptoms of measles would seem heartless. Causing encephalitis in a child is unconscionable.

Read additional insights from Dr. Donahue:

The Right to Pose a Danger to Others? Commentary by Dr. Don Donahue

Enterovirus 68, TB, and Ebola in the U.S. – Analysis by Dr. Donald Donahue JR

Ebola Crisis Planning Includes Post-Crisis Measures – Analysis by Dr. Don Donahue

Virus Plagues the States: An Analysis by Dr. Don Donahue

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