Measles, now at epidemic levels
I saw this story at io9.com, which summarized a news alert from the Centers for Disease Control about the ongoing outbreak of measles in the US. In the year 2000, measles was determined to essentially eliminated in this country, following an aggressive vaccination campaign during the second half of the 20th century. Prior to the introduction of the vaccine, there were over 500,000 cases each year, with a death rate of about one per 1000 cases. Because of the perceived low rate of death due to measles, there is a public perception that it is not a very serious disease, however there is actually a high risk of complications from measles that can lead to extensive medical care. Up to 30% of measles cases have one or more complications, with pneumonia being the most frequent cause of death in children due to complications of measles. In countries where malnutrition is prevalent, death due to measles occurs in 25% of the cases.
The graphic above was published by the CDC this week, and documents the rise in measles cases over the past decade+ since the disease was declared “eliminated” in 2000. This year marks the highest number of cases in over 20 years, and this milepost has been reached by the end of August, not the end of the calendar year. The CDC attributes the spike in cases solely on failure of parents to vaccinate their children; essentially all of the cases in this year’s outbreaks have been in unvaccinated individuals. In the majority of the cases this year, a cluster of cases were observed–an outbreak–where a single patient infected unvaccinated people around them, resulting in many cases of the disease.
The CDC strongly recommends that all individuals be immune to measles through vaccination. Because of the high threat of complications, the added cost to society through lost wages and healthcare, and the highly contagious nature of the disease, it is important to not become complacent about its threats. Additionally, certain segments of the US population (the very young, others with specific sets of underlying medical conditions) are not immune to measles, and therefore are significantly at risk due to exposure by others. The United States along with other partners in the World Health Organization have pledged to eliminate this disease for good by 2020. If we all do our part, we can see this happen!