The measles are back. Six cases of measles were diagnosed in Memphis, Tennessee, in the past four days, according to WREG News Channel 3. Dr. Helen Morrow of the Shelby County Health Department admitted more cases were likely. That’s more than the total number of measles cases in the entire United States from January through March this year. Ten cases of measles in four months may not seem like much until you remember the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had announced that measles were eradicated in the United States in the year 2000.
Unfortunately, measles didn’t stay eradicated. Recent outbreaks are being blamed on anti-vaxxers, people who mistakenly believe that the MMR vaccination, which prevents measles, mumps, and rubella, is more dangerous than measles.
In California last month, according to the Daily Intelligencer, Yuba River Charter School was closed for a few days after a student was diagnosed with measles. Many of the school’s students had not been immunized and thus were at greater risk of catching the disease.
Dr. Karen Smith, the director of the California Department of Public Health, reminded parents of the importance of vaccinating their children to prevent measles.
“It’s concerning to receive a report of a child with measles because it’s a disease that can easily be prevented…. Immunization is the best way to protect against measles. Two doses of the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine are approximately 97 percent effective at preventing disease in exposed persons.”
Many people regard measles as a simple childhood disease, a few days of discomfort, and nothing to worry about. For most people who catch the disease, they’re lucky enough if that’s all they suffer. Measles can lead to pneumonia and encephalitis, which in turn can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
Dr. Ava Easton, the chief executive of the Encephalitis Society, told the Independent that encephalitis is still a deadly disease in the 21st century.
“Six thousand people are diagnosed with encephalitis each year, that’s 16 people every day. This, it seems is also considered an underestimate as encephalitis is very difficult to diagnose and like in the case of Roald Dahl’s daughter, is sadly often missed.”
Roald Dahl dedicated two of his books to his daughter Olivia, James and the Giant Peach when she was still alive, and The BFG to her memory after she died of measles. James and the Giant Peach was made into a Disney movie in 1996, and The BFG will be released by Disney Studios this July. Olivia Dahl died of measles in 1962 when she was 7-years-old. This was before the discovery of a reliable measles vaccine.
Her father wrote an open letter about her death and the importance of immunization.
“It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out. Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die. LET THAT SINK IN. Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.”
Roald Dahl wrote that letter in 1986. At that time, nearly every American child was vaccinated against measles, and the disease was “virtually wiped out” while an average of 20 children a year were dying of measles in Great Britain. By the year 2000, the CDC declared measles eradicated in the United States. And now, in 2016, a serious but preventable disease is back.
Medical researchers agree that the reason for the resurgence of measles in this country is because of anti-vaxxer fears and sentiments. Many anti-vaxxers are concerned that the chemicals in MMR can harm their children. There is a widespread but scientifically discredited belief that the MMR vaccine can lead to autism. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who started the rumor, lost his medical license as a result of his research being proven deliberately fraudulent. The CDC, the UK National Health Service, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences agree that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism.
Many people with autism are offended that parents are willing to risk their children’s lives because they think the chance of dying of pneumonia or encephalitis is better than having an autistic child. Sarah Kurchak’s essay on the subject has gone viral. Kurchak points out the danger to those who aren’t vaccinated yet or can’t, because of medical complications, be vaccinated.
“Through no fault of their own, unvaccinated children, immunocompromised people, babies too young to receive the vaccination and the occasional vaccinated person (no vaccine is 100 per cent because science is not magic) across the continent are suffering from an infection that was essentially eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. All because a sizable group of mostly-privileged parents have decided that reviving a group of life-threatening diseases and potentially inflicting them on their loved ones and neighbors is infinitely preferable to having an autistic child.”
Those who can’t be vaccinated depend on “herd immunity,” which is protecting an entire community from a disease by immunizing a large enough percentage of the population. Measles are highly contagious, so it requires 95 percent of the community to be immunized in order to protect those people who aren’t immunized yet or can’t be immunized because of medical complications. Mumps, being less contagious, only require 75-85 percent of a community to be immunized. Anti-vaxxers create weak links in the chain of immunity, letting diseases slip through. This endangers not just their own families, but other people: infants too young to be vaccinated, the medically fragile, or the immunocompromised.
A measles vaccination has existed since 1963. An improved vaccination was developed in 1968. Vaccines for mumps and rubella were combined with the measles vaccine in the MMR in 1971. This is the 21st century — shouldn’t measles be a thing of the past?
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