Here’s one “comeback kid” you don’t want to root for. Though measles was declared “eliminated” from the U.S. in 2000, 644 cases were reported last year to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And by March 6 of 2015, there were 173 cases in 27 states—including New Jersey.
It isn’t a full-fledged return yet, to be sure. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, 3 to 4 million Americans each year contracted this disease, famous for its trademark red rash but also known to cause fever, cough, runny nose and sometimes other complications. The outbreaks that now affect Americans can be traced to visitors arriving from parts of the world where measles still affects millions. But even small outbreaks are a big concern, because measles is extremely contagious.
Why is this menace, once given a knockout blow, rising from the canvas? The answer is simple: Too many parents are failing to inoculate their children. The United States was able to reduce measles cases to nearly nil because a highly effective measles vaccine and a strong vaccination program that achieved high coverage in children had been successful for more than 30 years. After 1963, the number of measles cases dropped dramatically, and in 2004 only 37 cases were reported—a record low. However, since then more and more parents have refused vaccination.
How contagious is the virus that causes measles? “If one person in a room of 10 has it, chances are the virus will infect eight of the other nine,” says Uzma Hasan, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.
It can also be quite serious, with complications such as diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia and, more rarely, encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, which can be fatal. These complications are more common among children under age five and anyone with a compromised immune system.
Fortunately, the comeback can be stopped. “The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe, with no significant risk of serious complications,” says Dr. Hasan. “It’s been around since the 1960s and it offers lifelong immunity.” (Learn more on the CDC’s website, cdc.gov, and by searching “measles.”)
Debunking the autism myth
If you’re keeping your family away from vaccinations even partly because you think they may be associated with autism, think again. There is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism, says Uzma Hasan, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. Independent reviews by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and others have concluded that there is no association between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
Much of the public fear and misunderstanding on this topic stems from a research paper released years ago—and subsequently discredited— that cited data linking vaccinations to autism. “It was later shown that these data were manufactured,” says Dr. Hasan. In fact, the paper was officially withdrawn and declared “utterly false” by the Lancet, the British medical journal that had published it, and its author was barred from practicing medicine in the United Kingdom.
To learn more, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) and search “vaccines and autism.”
To find out more about the treatment of pediatric infectious diseases at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, please call 973.322.7600 or visit barnabashealth.org/sbmc.