liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,

Measles Outbreaks Increase in the US

The CNN headline reads "Measles outbreaks may be linked to vaccine fears". It sounds like there's a correlation between children being home-schooled and un-vaccinated. Public schools require some vaccinations, but there are "pockets" of children who are home-schooled, un-vaccinated, and thus at risk. In one pocket some 30 people were infected with measles when one of their number traveled to Italy.

The MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine is one of the few that I would actually recommend that parents get for their children...and there are a few more. Not everyone needs every vaccine... but vaccines have changed human health drastically for the better in the last century. How soon we forget.

Managing public health is a process of lowering risk for the entire "herd". Vaccination is an easy way to do that. For the more risky diseases, like the ones that cause birth defects, suffering in old age, and death, the risk of the vaccine might be worth it. Yes, the ingredients in vaccines are suspect. As this article says, people are avoiding vaccines these days because they think they could cause autism. Well, maybe they do contribute. There are lots of other things that contribute to autism. If all you do for your kid is avoid vaccines, you might as well give them a gun to play with. There are lots of ways that parents can protect and teach their children that are not being addressed. Whooping cough can kill, but so can soda pop.

Some diseases, like smallpox, are said to have been eradicated using vaccines. But most (or maybe all) diseases still exist somewhere in the world. There is even the threat that smallpox might still be used as a weapon. If we stop vaccinating our population, we will soon have them endemic here too. So where is the line between individual desires to avoid the risk of an injection, with group desires to live in a population that has less disease in general? The line is shifting.

The role of a doctor in my view is to help people find where that line is for them and their family, not to support the pharmaceuticals in saying that everybody needs all the shots all the time. Heck, I don't believe your dog needs a rabies shot every year either. It's up to you, and a little education goes a long way.

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- Measles cases in the U.S. are at the highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of those involving children whose parents rejected vaccination, health officials reported Thursday.
Kids who are home-schooled or have exemptions don't have to get vaccinations.

Worried doctors say they are troubled by the trend fueled by unfounded fears that vaccines may cause autism. The number of cases is still small, just 131, but that's only for the first seven months of the year. There were only 42 cases for all of last year.

"We're seeing a lot more spread. That is concerning to us," said Dr. Jane Seward of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pediatricians are frustrated, saying they are having to spend more time convincing parents that the shot is safe.

"This year, we certainly have had parents asking more questions," said Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas, physician who is a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The CDC's review found that a number of cases involved home-schooled children not required to get the vaccines. Others can avoid vaccination by seeking exemptions, such as for religious reasons.

Measles, best known for a red skin rash, is a potentially deadly, highly infectious virus that spreads through contact with a sneezing, coughing, infected person.

It is no longer endemic to the United States, but every year cases enter the country through foreign visitors or Americans returning from abroad. Measles epidemics have exploded in Israel, Switzerland and some other countries. But high U.S. childhood vaccination rates have prevented major outbreaks here.

In a typical year, only one outbreak occurs in the United States, infecting perhaps 10 to 20 people. This year through July 30, the country has seen seven outbreaks, including one in Illinois with 30 cases, said Seward, of the CDC's Division of Viral Diseases.

None of the 131 patients died, but 15 were hospitalized.

Childhood measles vaccination rates have stayed above 92 percent, according to 2006 data. However, the recent outbreaks suggest that pockets of unvaccinated children are forming. Health officials worry that vaccination rates have begun to fall, something that won't show up in the data for a couple of years.

The vaccine is considered highly effective but not perfect; 11 of this year's cases had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Of this year's total, 122 were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. Some were unvaccinated because the children were younger than 1, too young to get their first measles shot.

In 63 of those cases -- almost all of them 19 or younger -- the patient or their parents refused the shots for philosophical or religious reasons, the CDC reported.

In Washington state, an outbreak was traced to a church conference, including 16 school-aged children who were not vaccinated. Eleven of those kids were home-schooled and not subject to vaccination rules in public schools. It's unclear why the parents rejected the vaccine.

The Illinois outbreak, triggered by a teenager who had traveled to Italy, included 25 home-schooled children, according to the CDC report.

The nation once routinely saw hundreds of thousands of measles cases each year and hundreds of deaths. But immunization campaigns were credited with dramatically reducing the numbers. The last time health officials saw this many cases was 1997, when 138 were reported.

The Academy of Pediatrics has made educating parents about the safety of vaccines one of its priorities this year. That's partly because busy doctors have grown frustrated by the amount of time they're spending answering parents' questions about things they read on the Internet or heard from TV talk shows.

In June, the CDC interviewed 33 physicians in Austin, suburban Seattle, Washington and Hollywood, Florida, about childhood vaccinations. Several complained about patient backlogs caused by parents stirred up by information of dubious scientific merit, according to the CDC report.

Questions commonly center on autism and the fear that it can be caused by the measles shots or by a mercury-based preservative that used to be in most vaccines. Health officials say there is no good scientific proof that either is a cause.

Also, since 2001, the preservative has been removed from shots recommended for young children, and it was never in the measles-mumps-rubella combination vaccine. It can still be found in some flu shots.

Brown said she wrote a 16-page, single-spaced document for parents that explains childhood vaccinations and why doctors do not believe that they cause autism. She began handing it out this spring and thinks it's been a help to parents and a time-saver for her.

"People want that level of information," she said.

At least one outbreak this year of another preventable disease was blamed on lack of immunizations. At least 17 children were sick with whooping cough at a private school in the San Francisco Bay area, and 13 were not vaccinated against the disease, which can be fatal to children.
Tags: autism, parenting, public health, terrorism, travel, vaccines

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