The CBS Evening News (8/21/08) reported that “measles, a childhood disease, is making a comeback in this country, and doctors are worried.” Health officials are especially concerned about what these numbers say about parents’ attitudes towards vaccinations.
The New York Times reports that “more people had measles infections in the first seven months of this year than during any comparable period since 1996, and public health officials blamed growing numbers of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children,” according to findings published August 22 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. A number of these parents say they believe vaccines cause autism, even though multiple studies have found no reputable evidence to support such a claim. The CDC received reports of 131 measles cases…from 15 states between January and July of this year. Of these, 15 people, including four infants, were hospitalized. There were no deaths.
Measles is no longer endemic to the United States, but every year, cases enter the country through foreign visitors or Americans returning from abroad. Measles epidemics have exploded in Israel, Switzerland, and some other countries. In the past, high U.S. childhood vaccination rates have prevented major outbreaks, such that in a typical year, only one outbreak occurs in the United States, infecting perhaps 10 to 20 people. So far this year through July 30, the country has seen seven outbreaks, including one in Illinois with 30 cases. Yet, while the measles vaccine is considered highly effective, it is not perfect; 11 of this year’s cases had at least one dose of the vaccine.
According to the CDC, the cases included 95 children eligible to receive the measles vaccine who had not gotten it, two-thirds of them because of parents’ objections. “Such refusals, tied in part to fears the vaccinations can trigger autism, put children at greater risk for a disease that can cause rash, fever, pneumonia and, in extreme cases, death”, said Ari Brown, M.D., an Austin, Texas, pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Before the measles vaccine became available in the mid-1960s, the disease caused an estimated 450 deaths and 4,000 cases of measles encephalitis annually, some 1,000 of which resulted in chronic disability. In the decade before the vaccination was introduced, an estimated three to four million people were infected each year. The disease is highly contagious, and requires high vaccination rates.
The CDC recommends the measles vaccine for all healthy children, with one dose at age 12 to 15 months, and a second dose at the time of school entry.
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