Measles was largely believed to be eradicated from the United States in 2000, but in recent weeks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 100 cases in almost 20 states. The measles outbreak hit close to home at Bard College in January according to a press release from the Annandale-on-Hudson campus.
The good news is that Capital New York reports that the state has only seen three measles cases this year—the other two were international travelers, though. And as of last week, the CDC had not reported any other cases in New York.
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Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control
The World Health Organization says 91% of the United States population is adequately vaccinated against measles—if you got the vaccination as a child, chances are you’re safe from the disease. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking medical help will prevent potential complications from the measles virus including encephalitis or potentially fatal swelling of the brain, ear infections, and pneumonia. The CDC estimates one or two in every 1,000 children who contract measles will die from it.
However for those who are not vaccinated, the CDC reported that measles is so contagious that 9 out of 10 people around an infected individual will become infected. After an infected individual leaves a room, the disease can be contracted for up to two hours later. Even asymptomatic individuals may be contagious if they carry the disease.
Most of the recent cases are centered in an outbreak in Southern California. This outbreak was found to be genetically similar to an outbreak that killed 110 people in the Philippines last year. The particularly hot-button issue, however, is how federal and state governments ought to deal with vaccinations, particularly childhood vaccinations.
Senior CDC Press Officer Benjamin N. Haynes said though the US healthcare infrastructure is sufficient to deal with these cases, those who are not vaccinated are at risk.
Though some who choose not to vaccinate their children use a “herd immunity” argument —the idea that there are enough vaccinated people in a community to stop the disease from spreading to the few who chose not to vaccinate—a 2013 Scientific American report showed that when the non-vaccinated population grows, it hurts even those who have been vaccinated, giving the diseases a chance to infect more people.
“You’ll notice that a lot of people coming down with measles are people who were vaccinated,” argues Louis Conte, a Westchester resident and author, who led an investigation into vaccine compensation cases in which children had sustained brain damage shown to be a result of vaccinations. Conte, the father of triplet boys, two with autism, describes himself as “an advocate for the autism community.” His books include the novel The Autism War and the non-fiction book, Vaccine Injuries. “People are calling for parents to be jailed over vaccines and some folks with immunodeficiency can’t be vaccinated.”
Conte pointed to a September lawsuit against pharmaceutical company Merck over their MMR vaccine as a reason to question vaccination practices. “The same people who have produced drugs like Vioxx and concealed side effects are the same people who produce vaccines.”
Unsurprisingly, members of the medical community are quick to reject arguments based around an autism-vaccination connection.
“The myth about autism has really been debunked,” said Debra Etelson, New Rochelle pediatrician and blogger at MDMommy. “In our practice we don’t see patients who refuse to vaccinate.”
Etelson also said she is concerned about those who choose not to vaccinate their children.
“There really is no downside to it and its protection,” Etelson said about the measles vaccine. “By not vaccinating, you’re not only putting your own child at risk, but the general population at risk.”
Rob Ring, chief science officer at Autism Speaks, also urges parents to vaccinate. In a recent statement to ABC News he said, “Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”