Recently, my colleagues and I have been hearing reports about measles outbreaks around the country. New York, California, Dallas and even Hawaii have seen cases this year.
Many epidemiologists feel it’s only a matter of time before most major metropolitan areas in the U.S. are affected. Unless we see an improvement in vaccination rates, the Houston area is at risk of having its own outbreak.
So what is measles and why are doctors across the country up in arms about some people coming down with a little virus?
In short, because it’s highly contagious, can be deadly and is completely preventable with vaccination. Measles causes fever, cough, runny nose and pink eye in the early stages. People then usually develop a rash that starts at the top of the head and spreads down the body. Measles can cause encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. This can happen during the initial infection or any time after you have been infected with the virus, even years later. Some people who get measles will die from it. According to the World Health Organization, 122,000 people died of measles in 2012 globally. That’s 14 people an hour.
Why are we even in this situation? It started in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield, a former surgeon and researcher in the UK, published a paper suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Guess what? He made it up. Several other researchers attempted to reproduce his results and got nothing. Hundreds of studies have been done trying to find a link between any vaccine and autism, and the results have consistently shown no link. An investigation was launched and Wakefield was found guilty of three dozen charges including four counts of medical dishonesty and 12 counts involving abuse of developmentally challenged children. He has since had his medical license revoked and has made money writing books and running a company that charges parents of autistic children for therapies that have not been proven safe or effective.
Yep, he made a lot of money by lying about his research, scaring parents and causing harm to people across the globe who are now dying from measles as a result of low vaccination rates. If there is a comic book villain in the world of pediatrics, it’s him.
Some people can’t be vaccinated for measles, like infants under a year of age, people with certain immune disorders, or cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Those people need the rest of us to get vaccinated to prevent outbreaks. If you have not been vaccinated, or are thinking of delaying your child’s vaccines, remember it is not only your or your child’s life you are putting at risk.