Are Measles Making a Comeback?
Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. So why has the infectious disease suddenly reappeared in 2013?
In 2000, public health officials declared that measles had been eliminated in the United States. In 2013? The infectious disease marked by high fever and skin rash appears to be making a comeback.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2013 is on track to be the worst year for measles in the United States since 1996. Around the world, there are an estimated 20 million cases of measles each year. While the total number of cases reported in the United States between January and the end of August remains relatively low, with 158 cases diagnosed, it’s the pattern and growth rate of the disease that has many in the medical community concerned, especially when it comes to young children. Among recently diagnosed cases in the U.S., the CDC reports that 36 percent occurred in children fours year old and under. At least 11 percent of measles cases developed in infants under 12 months old.
What’s the reason for the resurgence in measles? Hayley Gans, MD, an infectious-disease specialist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in California and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, believes it may all come down to declining vaccination rates.
“There are whole communities who have not been vaccinated for measles, and the reasons vary from religious to philosophical,” Gans explained in a statement. “Travelers to this country who have not been immunized and are sick with measles can introduce the disease into U.S. populations that do not have immunity from measles. In addition, unimmunized or partially immunized residents who travel to areas where measles is circulating may become ill and bring the disease back to this country.”
This is exactly what happened earlier this year, the Boston Globe reported, when an unvaccinated 17-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, was infected with measles while on a trip to the United Kingdom. Because he lived in a community with a large number of other deliberately unvaccinated children, the virus quickly spread. By the time the outbreak was contained, 58 people had been infected—making it the largest outbreak in the country in more than 15 years.
When should children receive the measles vaccine (typically bundled together with mumps and rubella)? “The current recommendation is between 12 to 15 months of age, and then the second dose between the ages of 4 and 6 years,” said Gans. She also noted that the second dose can be given as early as one month after the first dose.
Because measles remains prevalent in other parts of the world, with outbreaks currently reported in places like Australia and the U.K., if a family is planning to travel with their children, “any child that is older than 6 months should receive the vaccine, and any child who has received one dose should receive a second dose. In order for the vaccine to be protective, it should be administered at least two weeks prior to travel,” Gans recommended.
In response to concerns and fears about the safety of the measles vaccine, Gans points out that there has been no link between the measles vaccine and a major disease. Nor is there a link with autism, according a vaccine safety study published last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
What should parents watch out for after a measles vaccine is administered?
“The most common side effects are related to the site of immunization, which include redness and swelling. Between 5 and 15 percent of people may develop a fever and slight rash, which is not contagious,” Gans stated. Two vaccine doses should be enough to offer lifetime immunity.
As for the disease itself, in Great Britain, the current measles outbreak there has now surpassed 1,5000 cases for the year. Are we on track for the same thing to happen in the United States?
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