In 2000 measles was considered eradicated from the U.S. In fact, from 2001 to 2010 there were just 60 U.S. measles cases a year on average. However, last year, cases of measles reached an all-time high in the United States with a total of 222 reported cases. This is the most measles cases ever since 1996, according to the CDC. Among the 222 cases, reported across 31 states, there were 17 official measles outbreaks. An outbreak is when there are at least three cases linked by time and place. The average outbreak size last year included six cases per outbreak, but in one instance, a single person with measles infected 21 other people. This week, Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, reported that most of these cases (90%) came into the country via citizens who had traveled outside the U.S., with many of the 2011 cases originating in Europe.  That said, the CDC is placing new emphasis on the importance of the MMR vaccination, especially if you plan on traveling abroad. Schuchat says, “Unvaccinated people put themselves and others at risk for measles. There is a relationship between the decisions families make and disease rates.

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Measles in third day image by CDC

Who Was Infected?

Of the folks infected with measles last year, the average age was 14 years old. 86% of individuals infected were unvaccinated or didn’t know their MMR vaccination status. Among the measles patients who were unvaccinated 6% were babies aged 6–11 months with a recent history of international travel; 10% were aged 12–15 months and 47% were aged 16 months through 19 years. Schuchat noted that maybe parents aren’t getting their children vaccinated because people assume measles isn’t an issue any longer here in the U.S., which could be right on the money considering that a full 76% of individuals who were infected with measles reported that they (or their kids) were not vaccinated for philosophic, religious, or personal objections to vaccines. The new CDC data doesn’t clarify if measles outbreaks were more common in places where parents tend to refuse vaccinations for their kids, but Schuchat did note that past outbreaks have been clustered in these areas. Last year no one who was infected with measles died, but a third of all infected individuals were hospitalized and many had negative linked symptoms such as diarrhea (24%), dehydration (21%) and pneumonia (17%).

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Image by CDC/ Judy Schmidt

MMR Vaccination Controversy

The infamous Wakefield MMR vaccine linked to autism claim made in 1998 created a stir in the parenting world, causing many parents to rethink the MMR vaccine and consequently, not get their children vaccinated. In 2011, Wakefield’s report was found to be an elaborate fraud, but his theory that vaccines cause autism remains popular among many. That said, in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC points out that the only reason measles elimination has been maintained in the United States for more than a decade is due to the MMR vaccination, and that the, “Increase in measles importations and outbreaks during 2011 should serve as a reminder that measles remains a threat in many parts of the world and unvaccinated U.S. residents continue to place themselves and others in their communities at risk for measles and its complications.” Currently, the CDC recommends that all children age 12–15 months, receive an MMR vaccine, with a second dose at age 4–6 years. Two doses of the MMR vaccine also are recommended by the CDC for unvaccinated health-care personnel, international travelers, and students attending post–high school educational institutions.

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Classic day-4 rash with measles image by CDC/NIP/ Barbara Rice

Measles Dangers vs. MMR Dangers

In her public report, Schuchat pointed out that the MMR vaccine has been extensively studied and is very safe when compared to measles. Obviously Schuchat would say this due to her connection with the CDC. However, the CDC makes an important point. Currently, the United States has been able to eradicate diseases like measles specifically because of vaccines, but when people don’t get vaccinated the diseases have the potential to come back. Although the risk for measles may seem slight, cases are on the rise, and because death is a risk, it may not be worth skipping the MMR vaccine. You have to ask yourself what’s the likelihood of something going terribly wrong if your child doesn’t get vaccinated and instead contracts measles. If your child does contract measles, he’s at a very real risk for major complications and even death. Measles, also called rubeola, is highly contagious and is considered the most deadly of all the childhood diseases. Measles can cause fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. One out of ten children who develops measles will also contract an ear infection and one out of 20 will get pneumonia. Research shows that for every 1,000 children who gets measles, one or two will die. While some natural immunity is useful, it can’t protect your kids against every disease out there. At the very least, even if you’re against vaccines, it’s worth your time to research the pros and cons of MMR vs. measles.

+ Facts about measles

+ Questions and Answers about MMRV Vaccine Safety

+ The Fraud Behind the MMR Scare

+ Immunization Action Coalition: Examine the Evidence – Published studies on both sides of the vaccine vs. autism debate (pdf)

+ What Parents Should Know About Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) Vaccine and Autism

Lead Image via CDC/ Judy Schmidt