Skepticism about vaccines has led to a roaring measles comeback.
The disease, declared eradicated nearly 20 years ago, is spreading with a vengeance, with 704 recorded cases already this year, the largest number since officials thought the disease to be nonexistent.
The majority of the cases, according to an article in the New York Times, stems from two outbreaks — one in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City and its suburbs that has recently spread to Orthodox communities in Michigan and a one in Washington State.
But the virus has been detected in 22 states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“This problem has been brewing for a number of years,” said Dr. Mark Gendreau, Chief Medical Officer at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals, whose training is in emergency medicine. “This is not the same thing as catching a cold, particularly for the young.”
Measles can be fatal, especially for children or the elderly. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the disease kills 1 in 1,000 people, while cases marked as severe can lead to complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.
The disease has led to New York banning unvaccinated children from public spaces or those who have early symptoms like runny nose and conjunctivitis.
It can take seven to 10 days for “typical” measles — the red rashes — symptoms to present. Before this, however, a person may suspect he’s come down with a slight cold.
Those born between 1963 and 1967 may have only received a measles vaccine that turned out to be ineffective and may require an MMR booster vaccine or blood test to check if they have adequate immunity. Individuals who received the MMR vaccination after 1967, generally, have lifetime immunity.
Anyone born before 1957, likely had exposure to measles and, as a consequence, have natural immunity and do not require any vaccination. Dr. Gendreau says there are two ways people can check their immunity. A blood test can determine if you have proper immunity to measles. Or, if you don’t want a blood test, getting an MMR booster will not have negative consequences, even if you’ve been previously vaccinated.
“You may experience some slight side effects, a headache, but an additional vaccine doesn’t have any consequences,” Dr. Gendreau said.
The reason for these roaring outbreaks can be traced back to parents who do not vaccinate, according to the CDC.
“The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States,” the CDC said in a statement.
Because of faulty information regarding vaccines, which has been spread by organizations and Hollywood celebrities, some parents have asked for a reduced amount of vaccines for their children. This situation, also, does not provide immunity, explained Dr. Gendreau.
“People don’t see what the consequences are,” he said. “So they tend to take a cavalier or wishful approach to how they want their children immunized.”
In addition to parents forgoing vaccines, there are a couple of factors that make measles a disease that spreads easily. First, the disease’s “attack rate,” or likelihood it will present after exposure, is 92 to 94 percent. It’s mode of transmission also makes it difficult to curb.
The virus, Dr. Gendreau said, is extremely light. Measles is an airborne disease and the virus can stay floating, lingering in the air for hours.
“It’s almost like a fog,” he said.
For more information on how to protect you and your children from the measles, speak with your health care provider.