When it comes to health concerns parents have for their children, measles probably isn’t the top disease that comes to mind, as it has largely ceased to be a threat for most families. However, due to the recent outbreaks and lack of vaccines, concerns that kids will have to contend with measles are on the rise.
According to Seth Mnookin of the Boston Globe, the number of kids who entered kindergarten in Massachusetts last year unvaccinated was 1,200 — double what it was a decade ago. This is a particularly concerning number since measles is unique in that it is the most infectious microbe in the world. It can live outside of the body for two hours and it has a transmission rate of 90 percent.
Many parents are requesting exemptions from the vaccine in fear that is causes autism. Much of the fear is based on research that has been retracted or has been published in non-peer-reviewed journals.
In the past year there were two unconnected cases of measles in Massachusetts contained thanks to efforts by state, local and hospital employees who checked the vaccine status of anyone who could have come in contact with the infected patients. Other parts of the country haven’t had the same success in containing measles, though. The largest outbreak in 15 years took place in Brooklyn, NY after a teenager contracted the disease from a trip to the United Kingdom and spread the disease to 58 other people before the outbreak was contained.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 159 total cases between January and August, which puts 2013 on track to record the most domestic measles infections since the disease was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000.
This number sounds small in a country of 313 million, but with fewer people getting vaccinated combined with the infectious nature of the disease, it is not hard to imagine an epidemic getting out of control.
You need only take a look across the Atlantic to find out how quickly measles can spread out of control. In 2007, there were just 44 infections in France, a country where vaccination is recommended but not required. Over the next four years, more than 20,000 additional cases were recorded. Nearly 5,000 of these patients required hospitalization, and 10 of them died.
The lack of immunization is not only a health risk, but also holds an economic impact. In a 2008 outbreak in San Diego where 11 children were infected and 839 people were exposed cost the public sector $124,517 — which equals $10,000 per infection in taxpayer dollars.