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Measles Outbreaks Continue to Spread and Claims Lives in the US and Abroad

Although issues with access to vaccines account for many of the cases of measles infections in Europe, the same cannot be said for the United States, where the most common reasons for outbreaks are international travel and low immunization rates in some communities that choose not to vaccinate.

“Most measles cases in the United States are the result of international travel,” said Gary Brunette, MD, MPH, chief of CDC’s travelers’ health program in the CDC’s advisory email. “Travelers get infected while abroad and bring the disease home. This can cause outbreaks here in the United States.”

Other outbreaks occur in communities that choose not to vaccinate, as is the case in Minnesota, where, for example, the decision of members of a local Somali community to not vaccinate their children had resulted in 64 of the 79 total cases of the disease in 2017. Seventy-one of the 79 individuals were not vaccinated, and 74 of the cases were children <17 years.

According to the CDC, “Measles is one of the most contagious of all infectious diseases; approximately 9 out of 10 susceptible persons with close contact to a measles patient will develop measles. The virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can live for up to 2 hours in the air or on surfaces. People with measles usually have a rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Some people also get an ear infection, diarrhea, or a serious lung infection such as pneumonia. Although severe cases are rare, measles can cause swelling of the brain and death.”

Despite the potential deadly consequences of infection, many parents are still choosing not to vaccinate their children, as evidenced by a recent article from Maine’s Portland Press Herald which reported that the “number of parents opting their children out of immunizations for nonmedical reasons rose from 4% to 4.8%.” The Chairman of the Maine Immunization Coalition is quoted in the article as stating that the “numbers are extremely distressing,” and that the “lack of immunizations raises the chances of an outbreak of infectious disease,”—like measles.
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