Measles Outbreak Was Inevitable But Can Be Halted, UAB Physician Says

An ongoing, multistate measles outbreak linked to a California amusement park has already caused 68 confirmed cases between Jan. 1 and 23, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One University of Alabama at Birmingham pediatric infectious diseases specialist says this outbreak was inevitable, and it is likely to worsen.

“We’ve been seeing increasing numbers of cases — last year the numbers nationally were the highest since the early 1990s — and it directly relates to parents who choose not to immunize their children with the safe and highly effective measles vaccine,” says David Kimberlin, MD, a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor of pediatrics and president of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

Kimberlin, who also is editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “Red Book,” in which the schedule of recommended vaccines is published, says measles is one of the most contagious infections known to affect people.

“When community protection against measles is weakened because not enough people have been immunized against it, and then you get them together in a central location where they can be exposed to cases imported by travelers from other parts of the world, it’s like throwing matches on dry leaves,” Kimberlin says. “Once measles has gained such a foothold, it spreads extremely easily, and so I anticipate that, unfortunately, we will be seeing a whole lot more cases.”

Measles is still common in various countries where vaccine rates are lower, Kimberlin says, which is why importations pose such a threat, in this disease as well as all other vaccine-preventable diseases.

First available in 1971, the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine, is given in two doses to prevent measles. Kimberlin says:
- Prior to the introduction of the MMR vaccine, around 500 children died from the measles annually in the United States.
- Infants under 12 months old and older children with weakened immune systems due to cancer cannot receive the immunization.
- The MMR vaccine rate in a community needs to be at least 95 percent to protect those who cannot be immunized and prevent spread.

Kimberlin believes misperceptions about the MMR vaccine are the root of outbreaks in the U.S., and he hopes parents will talk to their children’s physicians to become better informed on the immunization.

“This outbreak is the poster child of why we need to immunize, and it may or may not be this outbreak; but there will be a major measles epidemic unless something changes,” Kimberlin says. “People increasingly do not take lifesaving opportunities that our medical scientific advancements created, and it’s really unfortunate because it’s our children who end up paying the price.”

Source Newsroom: University of Alabama at Birmingham 

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