The Measles Outbreak

Millions of children unvaccinated as cases approach record high

2019 is set to be the worst year for measles in the U.S. since the year 2000, when the disease was thought to be eliminated.

As of April 19, at least 626 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 22 states, with numbers expected to quickly surpass the previous yearly record of 667 in 2014.

According to the CDC, measles outbreaks in the U.S. occur primarily for two reasons:

  • An increase in the number of people getting measles in other countries, then travelling to the U.S. and passing the disease to others.
  • Spreading the disease within the U.S. among communities with high numbers of unvaccinated people.

The groundwork for this current outbreak was laid years ago.

It’s estimated that 169 million children worldwide missed out on the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017, which averages out to over 21 million children per year.

"The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike." said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.

Children need two doses of the measles vaccine to protect them from the disease.

Coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine was 85% worldwide, far short of the 95% needed prevent outbreaks and make communities immune to the disease. Global coverage for the second dose was just 67%.

Some reasons for the lack of coverage in lower-developed countries are lack of access and poor healthcare systems. These can be factors in richer countries as well, but there has also been a rise in other factors: complacency, fear, and skepticism about vaccines in general.

According to UNICEF, these are the top ten high-income countries where children were not vaccinated with the first measles vaccine dose:

  1. United States: 2,593,000
  2. France: 608,000
  3. United Kingdom: 527,000
  4. Argentina: 438,000
  5. Italy: 435,000
  6. Japan: 374,000
  7. Canada: 287,000
  8. Germany: 168,000
  9. Australia: 138,000
  10. Chile: 136,000

A big problem for containing the disease: You have no signs or symptoms of measles for the first 10 to 14 days after you're infected.

Symptoms typically begin with a fever, often accompanied by a persistent cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes and a rash that consists of small red spots, typically on the face. The fever rises sharply, and the rash spreads down the arms and trunk, then over the thighs, lower legs and feet.

A person with measles can spread the virus to others for about eight days, starting four days before the rash appears.

The disease kills more than 100,000 people a year, most under the age of 5. The best way to prevent the spread of this disease is to make sure everyone in your family is vaccinated. Review your family's immunization records with your doctor, especially before starting school and before international travel.

The vaccine is very safe and effective: Two doses of the vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles, and widespread use of the vaccine has led to a greater than 99% reduction in measles cases compared with the pre-vaccine era.

For more information on the measles vaccine and other preventable diseases, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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