Measles Outbreaks Expand to More States

Measles outbreaks have spread to several more states in the Eastern US. The largest cluster of cases has occurred in Philadelphia, where 8 cases have been confirmed since December. Last week, a child in New Jersey became ill with measles. It is not known whether the New Jersey case is connected to the infections across the Delaware River. Health officials have confirmed, however, that all of the infected people were not vaccinated. On January 3 and 4, a measles-positive individual passed through Reagan and Dulles airports near Washington, DC. If you were in either airport during that time, you may have been exposed to the virus. Recent cases have also been reported in Delaware and Washington state.

The resurgence of the virus is linked to declining vaccination rates across the country. Measles was eliminated domestically in 2000, meaning that it was was not persistently circulating in the US. Before the development of the measles vaccine in 1963, the disease infected at least 3 million people Americans every year. Approximately 48,000 people were hospitalized, 400-500 died and 1,000 experienced brain swelling. In the decades that followed, childhood immunization programs achieved a steady decline in infections. Unfortunately, falling vaccination numbers, combined with visitors reintroducing the disease from other countries, has led to a reemergence.

Vaccine hesitancy has played a major role in the drop in vaccination rates. Misinformation about vaccines has driven much of this trend. A now widely debunked paper published in The Lancet in 1998 is still exploited to fuel distrust among a minority of Americans. The study’s author, Andrew Wakefield, used fraudulent methods. In addition to the Wakefield study being discredited, no other studies have confirmed his results, and dozens of studies shown no connection between the vaccine and autism.

“Ever since that Anfrew Wakefield article, people have developed important misconceptions from that misinformation and continuing disinformation about the MMR vaccine,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, head of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.

“Once you scare people, it’s hard to unscare them, so people then then sort of started to back away from that vaccine, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the division of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “So we saw cases again.”