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“When it comes to Measles, Our Herd Immunity is Gone”

What is the Measles virus?
Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. The disease of measles and the virus that causes it share the same name. The disease is also called rubella. Measles virus lives in the mucus in the nose and throat of the infected person. When that person sneezes or coughs, droplets spray into the air. The droplets can get into other people’s noses or throats when they breathe or put their fingers in their mouth or nose after touching an infected surface. The virus can live on infected surfaces for up to two hours. Measles causes fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. About one out of ten children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. About one out of 1,000 gets encephalitis, and one or two out of 1,000 die. Measles can also make a pregnant woman have a miscarriage, give birth prematurely, or have a child with severe neurologic diseases.

The outbreak in California- Herd Immunity is gone!!!!

As long as majority of children are vaccinated, typically over 92% of the population, there is this level of Herd Immunity that protects all of us. Currently in California, that level has dropped, to about 90%, hence lies our problem.
That means, close to 10 % are not vaccinated, or 1 out of 10 kids, is not protected, and this puts the entire population at risk.
California is currently experiencing a large outbreak of measles. The outbreak started in December 2014 when at least 40 people who visited or worked at Disneyland theme park in Orange County in mid-December contracted measles and has now spread to at least half a dozen other states. Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. It is widespread in many parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, and Asia. Measles begins with a fever that lasts for a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and a rash. The rash typically appears first on the face, along the hairline, and behind the ears and then affects the rest of the body. Infected people are usually contagious from about 4 days before their rash starts to 4 days afterwards. Children routinely get their first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at 12 months old or later. The second dose of MMR is usually administered before the child begins kindergarten but may be given one month or more after the first dose.

Why get the Measles Vaccine?
Studies show that majority of parents would much rather have their children get the vaccine than the disease itself. People might not realize that measles is not just fever and rash. Measles is also pneumonia, brain infection; it’s the leading cause of childhood blindness in the world. Some parents who don’t want to vaccinate, want to avoid anything that’s not natural for their kids. If you want to do something natural, vaccination is far more natural than if your child ends up on a ventilator or needing antibiotics or if they end up with a brain infection so if you are trying to balance what’s the most natural way to take care of your child, measles vaccine is pretty high up there. Also not getting the vaccine puts other children at risk. When people don’t vaccinate their children, they increase the risk for people in the population who can’t be vaccinated, such as infants under age 1, children and adults with weak immune systems and people with cancer. Like anything in the world, there’s no 100% guarantee. The measles vaccine is 99% effective, which means one in 100 who receives two doses of the vaccine could still get the disease.

Why would anyone refuse to be vaccinated or to inoculate his children?
In 1998, a study published in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine could cause autism. The research by Andrew Wakefield was later discredited and the study was retracted by the journal in 2010. But the paper set off a movement among people who continue to believe that there could be a link between the vaccine and autism. It has been fanned by the support of some celebrities. Vaccination is also opposed by some people on religious grounds, and some states allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children based on “personal beliefs.” California, epicenter of the current outbreak, is one of them.

If so many people are vaccinated, why is measles spreading in the United States?
Last year, there were 644 cases of measles in the United States, the most since 1994. 42 days into into 2015, there already has been 121 cases in 17 states. The CDC says last year’s outbreak and, most likely, this year’s as well was caused by unvaccinated travelers becoming infected abroad and bringing the virus into the United States. In parts of southern and northern California, where some communities have high rates of people who have not been immunized, the disease is more easily spread. Last year, for example it tore through an Amish community in Ohio where many people had not been inoculated. Children less than a year old typically are not vaccinated, because their immune systems are not ready. And some people, children and adults alike, cannot be immunized for medical reasons. That makes both groups vulnerable to the virus. All 50 states require vaccination for some or all of the following diseases before children can enter school: mumps, measles rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio, according to the CDC.

Maryam Zarei MD
Family Allergy Asthma Immunology & Sinus Center
Diplomate of the American Board of Allergy & Immunology
Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics

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