Not A Measly Number

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288 cases of measles have been reported to the CDC so far this year, “the largest number of measles cases in the United States reported in the first five months of a year since 1994.” You can probably guess who’s to blame:

“The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases. “Many of the clusters in the U.S. began following travel to the Philippines where a large outbreak has been occurring since October 2013.”

Schuchat also notes in the press release that American doctors are having a hard time diagnosing these outbreaks because they “have never seen or treated a patient with measles” before. Jeffrey Kluger interjects:

Of course, you can bet any first year medical student could have spotted the disease a few decades ago—

and the same was true with mumps and whooping cough and polio and smallpox and rubella and all of the other diseases that we don’t have to see anymore because we have, in this country at least, vaccinated them all but out of existence. What was true in the U.S. then is still true in the developing world, where those diseases and more still run riot.

The people in those countries would not play cute with disease. The people in those countries would not have the time for rumors and lies and celebrity dilettantes who take up the anti-vax cause because they’ve grown bored with the anti-carb or anti-gluten or pro-cleanse fads. Being this close to eliminating a disease is not the same as truly being done with it. That’s something all those new measles patients learned this year. And that’s something we’ll all have to keep learning until we wise up.

And indeed, as Jacob Kastrenakes reminds us, the anti-vaxxers stand to do a lot more damage in the developing world, where measles is still widespread:

Though measles is reaching a relative peak in the US, it’s still far lower in the United States than elsewhere across the globe. There’s estimated to be around 20 million annual measles cases worldwide and about 122,000 deaths stemming from it. Still, the rise in the United States is sharp. The CDC reported that measles cases had spiked in 2013 too, and 2013 saw only 175 confirmed cases in total by early December. In that report too, the CDC said a failure to vaccinate was the issue, with 98 percent of cases being in unvaccinated patients.

Elsewhere in the world, widely disproven concerns that vaccines are linked to autism are said to have been the cause of measles outbreaks. At least one isolated instance of this led to a small outbreak in Texas last year, though the CDC doesn’t break down the exact reasons why measles patients turned down vaccination.

David Gorski fears that history is repeating itself:

Specifically, I have to wonder whether British history is going to be repeated in the US. Remember how in 2008 measles was declared endemic again in the UK, after having been declared eliminated a mere 14 years before, thanks largely to the MMR-autism scare precipitated by Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent work? … It took fourteen years for the UK to go from having eliminated endemic measles, thanks to the MMR vaccine, to having measles return as an endemic disease. Here we are now, around fifteen years after measles was declared eliminated in the US, and we now have the highest number of measles cases in 20 years.