An infant receives the MMR vaccine in Ouham, Africa. Photo: Flickr user hdptcar/Creative Commons
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that the measles cases are on the rise in the United States, and during the first 19 weeks of 2011, 118 cases of measles have been reported — the highest rate since 1996.
The CDC says that 89% of the persons who contracted measles were unvaccinated, and 39 cases amongst young people ranging from 12 months to 19 years old were unvaccinated due to either parental religious or personal beliefs. Measles is highly infectious, and can be severe and outright fatal, especially amongst unvaccinated infants and those with compromised immune systems.
Measles were eliminated in the United States in the late 1990s, but continuing large numbers of measles outbreaks throughout many other parts of the world keep the measles and ongoing concern. Indeed, the majority of current cases of measles are believed to have been “imported” into the United States by U.S. tourists visiting other contries, mainly Europe and Southeast Asia.
Measles are currently controlled in the U.S. by administering the MMR vaccine to infants and young children, which also vaccinates against mumps and rubella (German measles). But more parents are choosing to opt out of the MMR vaccine due to advocates against it such as Andrew Wakefield, who published a study claiming a link to the vaccine and cases of autism. Wakefield’s study was later called an “elaborate fraud” by the British Medical Journal.
But Wakefield dismissed that charge, and he and other loud voices against vaccinations such as model/actress Jenny McCarthy continue to push the notion that vaccines may be harmful and that parents of children with autism should be “determined to fight for the truth about what’s happening to our kids.” The largest current outbreak occurred among 21 people in Hennepin County, Minnesota, due in part over fear regarding the safety of the MMR vaccine, which also led to infants to young to receive the vaccine being exposed to measles. Eight patients required hospitalization.
The CDC calls the MMR vaccine “highly effective in preventing measles and its complications,” and calls the widespread administration of the vaccine “critical for decreasing the risk for reestablishment of endemic measles transmission.”
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