Childhood immunizations for measles have practically eliminated outbreaks of the disease in North America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60 cases of measles occur in the United States in any given year, and the majority of those cases are contracted overseas. However, outbreaks of the disease in North America started to pop up in 2013 and 2014, leaving the public and doctors to wonder what is causing this sudden return.
Measles is spreading
As of March 2014, there have been at least 80 reported cases of measles in the United States alone. These cases occurred in California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Connecticut, among other states. More than 200 cases of measles have been confirmed in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Cases of measles also have been reported in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.
Health officials warn that while 90 percent of North Americans have been vaccinated against measles at some point in their lives, there are certain pocket communities where immunization rates are low. According to Dr. Kumanan Wilson, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, "There are more religious communities where vaccination is not necessarily supported." Furthermore, measles outbreaks have been tracked to countries such as the Philippines where measles immunizations are not necessarily the norm. People who are not vaccinated, particularly young children, are highly susceptible to catching measles. Vaccination remains the single most effective way to prevent infection.
Measles is highly contagious
Measles is a highly contagious infection that can start with a fever, cough, runny nose, and pink eye before it spreads into a rash on the face and body. Also called rubeola, measles can be serious and fatal for small children. Approximately 20 percent of people who have contracted the disease experience more serious complications like pneumonia and a swelling of the brain, called encephalitis.
The measles virus spreads through the air via infected mucus droplets from a person's mouth or nose. Sneezing or coughing can launch the virus. The infected droplets may land on surfaces, where they remain active and contagious for several hours. People can contract the virus by putting their fingers in their mouth or nose or rubbing their eyes after touching an infected surface. A child or adult is contagious from four days before the rash appears to four days after. People who have not received the MMR vaccine are very likely to contract measles if they come into contact with infected individuals.
The CDC reported that in 2013 the United States saw the second largest number of measles cases in its history since the disease was eliminated in 2000. Antivaccination beliefs could be playing a role in the resurfacing of the disease. Clusters of people with similar religious beliefs or fears concerning immunizations could be putting themselves and the larger public at risk. Studies have debunked the suspected link between vaccinations and autism, and the CDC urges pediatricians and other doctors to urge individuals to stay current on their vaccines. Many children are first vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) between the ages of 12 and 15 months.
Measles outbreaks are recurring, and the public can protect itself by ensuring vaccinations are up to date, especially for young children and those traveling out of the country.