There's a Measles Outbreak in 21 States Right Now Because of Unvaccinated Kids

Aug 16, 2018 at 5:19 p.m. ET
baby getting vaccinated
Image: Karl Tapales/Moment/Getty Images.

Measles is a highly contagious but very preventable disease. In fact, after the introduction of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, the number of annual cases dropped in the United States from 3 to 4 million in 1963 to something so negligible the disease was declared eradicated in 2000 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, in recent years, measles has seen something of a resurgence in this U.S., and this year is no different. According to a CDC report released on Wednesday, there have been 107 confirmed cases of measles over a recent six-month period. Yep, 107 confirmed cases from Jan. 1 to July 14 alone.

More: These Are the Vaccines Your Kid Needs Before Going Back to School

The outbreak has affected individuals from 21 states — including Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and the District of Columbia — and while both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals have been affected, the CDC has confirmed that most of the 2018 cases have involved those who were unvaccinated.

The symptoms of measles generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person is infected and include red eyes, a cough, runny nose, a high fever and a red rash that spreads all over the body. While the severity of each case will vary, 1 out of every 4 individuals diagnosed with measles will need to be hospitalized — and two to three cases (per 1,000) will result in death.

So, why is measles making a comeback? According to Popular Science, the rise in the number of measles cases is likely due to the declining number of children receiving MMR vaccines. As fewer and fewer parents choose to get their children vaccinated (for religious or other reasons), we begin losing the crucial herd immunity that protects us en masse from a disease. And that is a problem, not only for those who refuse the vaccine but for those who are too young to get the vaccine and/or physically cannot get the vaccine. What’s more, not even those who have been vaccinated against measles are safe. While “the measles vaccine is pretty amazing,” says Popular Science journalist Sara Chodosh, it does only prevent one from contradicting the disease 97 percent of the time — making vaccination very, very important.

More: How to Change Skeptical Parents' Minds About Vaccines

But it isn't just the measles vaccine that matters: all childhood vaccinations are important because it's so much easier to prevent a disease than to treat it after it occurs. So if you have a school-age child, be sure to get them vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox (varicella). Because the truth is in the science: Vaccinations save lives.

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