One of the more impossible-to-miss news stories right now is the measles outbreak that started at Disneyland. Since measles is an airborne virus that can last up to two hours, and because Disneyland attracts guests from all over the world, this was a perfect spot for the virus to spread. At this time, approximately 60-70 persons in California have contracted the virus.
Interestingly, if we take a trip back in time to the year 2000, the CDC declared that the United States had achieved measles elimination. So what happened and why are we hearing about a second outbreak in as many years? Well, in 1998 a study of 12 children by a former doctor, Andrew Wakefield, demonstrated a link between autism and the measles, mumps, rubella vaccination. Since then, this study has been shown to be fraudulent and Andrew Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. Despite evidence to the contrary, many well meaning and intelligent parents began declining vaccinations for their children. As a result, school districts in our state have up to 14.5% of students who are unvaccinated – the majority of whom are from affluent, coastal communities.
So what should we look out for in our friends, families and patients? First of all, a fever, head cold, and red rash are all signs of measles. Additionally, conjunctivitis (pink eye) is also very common as 65% of all measles patients develop this malady. Be especially careful if you have family members that are unvaccinated or have only received a single dose. Patients who have received two doses have less than a 1% chance of getting measles.
While measles is still relatively rare in the United States, 20 million people are infected worldwide and according to the World Health Organization 145,700 children died from measles worldwide in 2014. As a parent, I understand the apprehension many of us have about the numerous shots our kids get at such a young age. However, the evidence clearly demonstrates that vaccines save lives. So, I encourage every parent and unvaccinated person to do your part to eradicate this illness from the planet and get vaccinated or have your child vaccinated.