Expert Warns: Measles Outbreaks Are Coming in 2017

This is horrifying. Writing for The New York Times, Peter J. Hotez, a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, has issued a dire warning to parents: Measles outbreaks are coming in 2017.

Measles is one of the most contagious and most lethal of all human diseases. A single person infected with the virus can infect more than a dozen unvaccinated people, typically infants too young to have received their first measles shot. Such high levels of transmissibility mean that when the percentage of children in a community who have received the measles vaccine falls below 90 percent to 95 percent, we can start to see major outbreaks, as in the 1950s when four million Americans a year were infected and 450 died. Worldwide, measles still kills around 100,000 children each year.

After a measles outbreak infected 145 people in Disneyland in 2014, California passed a law requiring all children to be vaccinated. The only acceptable reason not to be vaccinated is a written note from a doctor. But, despite not accepting personal or religious beliefs as an excuse not to get vaccinated, another measles outbreak hit California last month. Eighteen cases of the measles were traced to an unvaccinated Orthodox Jewish community. Those 18 people came into contact with more than 2,000 people who were exposed to the disease; Ten percent were unvaccinated.

If you think your child can’t possibly be exposed to diseases previously eradicated in this country thanks to vaccination, think again. Hotez includes a map illustrating the vaccination rates for each state. Using his home state of Texas as an example, he explains how easily diseases like measles can spread across school populations:

Texas, where I live and work, may be the first state to once again experience serious measles outbreaks. As of last fall, more than 45,000 children here had received nonmedical exemptions for their school vaccinations. A political action committee is raising money to protect this “conscientious exemption” loophole and to instruct parents on how to file for it. As a result, some public school systems in the state are coming dangerously close to the threshold when measles outbreaks can be expected, and a third of students at some private schools are unvaccinated.

It is parents of newborns and children under the age of two who are facing the greatest threat. Hotez explains that parents “…have to live in fear that something as simple as a trip to the mall or the library could expose their babies to measles and that a broader outbreak could occur.”

Doctors can only treat complications associated with measles, which are often what prove deadly to young children. According to the World Health Organization:

Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. Complications are more common in children under the age of 5, or adults over the age of 20. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

Pregnant women who are unvaccinated are also at risk for severe complications and miscarriage or premature birth of the baby.

The CDC’s full vaccination chart can be found here.

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