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The Truth about the Measles Epidemic in the United States – and How to Protect Your Kids

May 15, 2019 • • Illness

Measles was once considered eradicated in the United States. Now, it’s back. Here’s how to keep your child safe.

Just under two decades ago, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared victory over measles. After seeing zero transmission of the disease for a period of over twelve months, the CDC confidently affirmed the success of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine — and the U.S. population’s herd immunity from measles.

However, in recent years, much of that progress has been undone. As anti-vaccination movements have grown in popularity in the U.S. and abroad — and as international travel has become even more common — measles has made an alarming return to the United States.

Last fall, an unvaccinated child from Brooklyn, New York, traveled to Israel and unwittingly contracted measles. Upon their return home, the infection spread across Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. After a remarkable 329 cases of the illness were recorded, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a citywide public health emergency on April 9.

About a week after de Blasio’s declaration, news broke that a similar measles outbreak was occurring halfway across the country in Michigan — as of April 17, 43 cases had been recorded. The outbreak could be traced back to a man who traveled from New York to Michigan without realizing he was ill. His symptoms — including a cough, runny nose, fever, and red, watery eyes — only began to appear once he arrived in the Great Lake State.

So why is measles making a return to the United States — and how can you keep your children safe?

Understanding How Measles Spreads

Prior to the development of the MMR vaccine, measles was a relatively common illness. In fact, almost every child in the United States would contract it before they turned 15, and every year, an average of 450 people — or 1 to 2 in every 1,000 patients — would die from the disease.

Since the measles vaccine became widely available, it has been easy to protect children from becoming infected. However, as more and more parents have opted not to vaccinate their children out of fear or misinformation, the disease has enjoyed a resurgence. Choosing to not vaccinate your child leaves not only them, but those around them who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons (including infants and children with serious health conditions) susceptible to measles.

The measles virus is very easy to catch, as it can spread quickly through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. In fact, it’s considered one of the most infectious viruses known to humankind. It’s especially likely to spread in airports and other crowded venues, and there’s truly no good way to protect against it except for being vaccinated.

Fortunately, like other vaccines, the measles vaccine is incredibly safe. The risk of serious allergic reactions occurring is so low that it’s nearly impossible to calculate, and the vaccine is certainly much safer than coming into contact with the measles infection.

Some parents in areas where measles has reappeared have been turning to unconventional, at-home vaccination methods like “measles parties” in an attempt to immunize their children from the disease. These gatherings, which are intended to expose healthy children to infected children to build their immunity, are very dangerous and not recommended. Again, the best way to protect against measles is the MMR vaccine.

Keeping Your Child Safe

If your child hasn’t received the measles vaccine and is older than 12 months, consider making an appointment with your pediatrician to get them vaccinated. If you aren’t sure whether your children have been fully vaccinated against the disease (the MMR vaccine requires one dose at 12 to 15 months and a booster between the ages of 4 and 6), you may want to veer on the safe side and get another MMR vaccination. There’s no risk associated with getting the vaccine for a third time.

If you want to get your child vaccinated against measles — or if you have more questions and concerns about vaccines in general — but you don’t have a consistent pediatrician, consider reaching out to Kids’ Health. We want your child to reach their best, physically, emotionally, and academically, and we’ll work with you to keep your child safe and healthy through all stages of their life.