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Why Are Measles Cases Rising in the US

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2024 – Measles, once a disease minimized by vaccines and public health measures, is reemerging again. Measles outbreaks in Florida and Philadelphia came after parents refused to quarantine their children, spreading the disease in the wider community. In one case, six children grew sick at Manatee Bay Elementary in Florida, and a further nine in Philadelphia when an infected child attended daycare.

Since December 1, almost two dozen cases of measles have been reported, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What’s behind this worrying trend? A constellation of factors: international travel, declining global vaccination rates, and lower herd immunity among children.

Already, the disease has reached Atlanta, where a single case of measles was reported in “an unvaccinated” resident – confirmed by the Georgia Department of Public Health. Further afield, the UK also faces a measles outbreak: 216 confirmed cases and 103 probable cases have been reported since October. It’s been declared a national incident.

So, Why is Measles Spreading?

In 2000, the United States achieved the complete elimination of measles. However, beyond its borders, measles remains one of the most contagious viruses known today. The number of cases today is an alarming change to past fortunes. What happened?

The CDC attributes the rise in measles cases to declining vaccination rates and increased international travel. This can lead to unvaccinated individuals contracting measles abroad and introducing it into the US.

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials were “alarmed” by the outbreak, releasing the following statement:

“Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 but is still the most easily transmitted human virus presently in circulation. Thankfully, by following established public health principles, Americans can make informed decisions, prevent outbreaks, and protect our communities. Vaccination is the best and safest way to protect children,”

Dr Marcus Plescia, Chief Medical Officer of ASTHO

Current Measles Advice and Guidance

Health authorities advise that children should receive the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine in two stages: the first dose between 12 and 15 months and the second dose between 4 and 6 years of age. The efficacy of the vaccine is about 93% after the first dose and increases to about 97% after the second dose.

Despite these recommendations, only about 92% of American children have received the MMR vaccine by the age of 2, falling short of the 95% target set by federal health objectives, as reported by the CDC in 2023.

In addition, the proportion of kindergartners meeting state-mandated measles vaccination requirements did not reach the federal goal in the 2022-23 academic year, as per CDC statistics. Moreover, the rate of exemptions from vaccinations among children has escalated to the highest level ever recorded in the country.

Misunderstanding the Severity of Symptoms

Perhaps the biggest problem behind the falling vaccination rates is a general skepticism of science (or at least medical science). Despite the clear causal link between vaccination rates and case rates, people continue to believe that the potential harms of vaccines outweigh the benefits.

Measles, in particular, is now a distant memory. The symptoms of fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes, and rash of red spots are forgotten. Few remember that it can cause pneumonia, encephalitis, or death. Measles has the power to “delete” itself from your immune memory after weakening the immune system.

This skepticism is often fueled by misinformation and fear, leading to a lack of understanding about the severity of diseases like measles. The consequences of this skepticism are not just theoretical; they have real-world impacts. When communities have lower vaccination rates, they are more vulnerable to outbreaks, which can have devastating effects, especially on those who are too young or medically unable to be vaccinated.

Moving Forward

Cases will continue to rise unless vaccination rates can return to the level set by the CDC and other authorities. Measles is an insidious disease, easily transmissible and potentially deadly. Around 20% of unvaccinated people who contract measles will become hospitalized.

Outbreaks almost always occur in unvaccinated communities – such as the 2018-19 Measles Outbreak in Rockland County, New York. With the highest number of cases since 1992, vaccine skepticism and failing vaccination rates threaten to reverse a generation of improvements.

Only by arguing the case for vaccines and showing real-world examples of success can we remember why vaccination was implemented in the first place: it saves lives.

 

Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota

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