A massive outbreak of the measles has swept across Europe, with reported totals exceeding 40,000 cases. Experts warn that if something doesn’t change soon, it is likely that the United States will suffer the same fate, according to ABC News.
The World Health Organization also reports that there have been 40 deaths during the measles outbreak, which has been unheard of in recent times.
“We have a very serious situation,” said Dr. Alberto Villani, pediatric infectious disease doctor at Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital and the president of the Italian Pediatric Society. “People are dying from measles. This was unbelievable five or ten years ago.”
Many experts blame the outbreak on parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. Many parents continue to not administer the MMR vaccine to their children due to a 20-year-old hoax perpetuated by Andrew Wakefield in a falsified study linking the vaccine to autism. Since measles is rare in the United States, most Americans are unaware of the dreadful impact of the disease or its startling contagiousness.
“It’s the main factor leading to the outbreaks,” said Anca Padararu of the European Commission in Brussels. “It’s unacceptable to have in the 21st century diseases that should have been and could have been eradicated.”
That was the case in the United States in 2000, when federal officials declared that measles had been eradicated in the U.S. Before the vaccine became available in 1963, the United States suffered 3 to 4 million cases annually. The success of the vaccine seems to also be part of its undoing.
“People don’t see them and so they forget about them or they think the diseases don’t exist anymore,” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Klausner, a professor of medical and public health at UCLA. “They don’t realize their child is at risk for measles, meningitis, encephalitis, and permanent brain damage.”
However, measles is not just a childhood disease. Adults can also contract the disease if they haven’t been vaccinated, resulting in fever, cough, and intense congestion that heavily restricts breathing, often leading to pneumonia. The disease also involves a rash that can even affect the eyes.
The WHO says that at least 95 percent of the population must have at least two rounds of the MMR vaccine to prevent an outbreak. Some parts of Europe are below 70 percent. Only about 92 percent of Americans have had just one dose of the MMR vaccine, according to the National Immunization Survey. In some rural states, the vaccination rate is near 80 percent.
There is currently a plethora of misinformation online, with more than 400 anti-vaccine websites and even political action committees forming that are dedicated to the subject. Conversely, there is precious little in terms of political information campaigns that explain why vaccinations are so important. The result is a recipe for disaster.
Dr. Albert W. Wu, an internist and professor of health policy and management at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the following about the anti-vaccination movement in the U.S.
“I’m afraid it will take a really big outbreak in the United States before we begin to see a reversal of this anti-vaccine sentiment.”