Why is measles becoming more common?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

One person with measles can infect 15 other people from up to 100 feet away. In this video, Dr. Oz and Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), discuss why measles, the most contagious disease on earth, is making a comeback.

Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine
On March 20, 2012, one of the USA Today cover stories was “Measles Outbreak Could Hit the USA” as a result of rising rates of measles in Europe and declining rates of vaccination here.

If measles does make a meaningful comeback, it would imply public health is sliding back as we head into the future. We don’t want to go there.

We live in a culture where it is highly fashionable to question all authorities, and to presume guilt rather than innocence with regard to others’ motives. In the Internet age, crazy, paranoid nonsense and hard-earned, thoughtful, evidence-based expertise have the same megaphone. Anyone can post a blog or video -- and it is, in fact, the more radical opinions that are most likely to go viral for the very reason that they stand out.

Why is it we are apathetic about vaccines and less concerned about the diseases they prevent than with the side effects they do, or even might, cause? For one salient reason: because they work. It may sound paradoxical, but the reason we don’t seem to have any love for vaccines is because they are so effective.

In general, when prevention works, there is literally nothing to see. The good results are things that don’t happen. This undermines public and political support for prevention, and costs us all -- in the currency of both dollars and human potential.

When an immunization campaign works, a disease can literally disappear -- as smallpox has. And once a disease has been gone a while, you start to wonder why you should put up with the “dangers” of immunization. The disease the vaccine is preventing is invisible, and in contrast, any modest danger associated with the vaccine looms large.

There is, admittedly, always some danger associated with immunization. Truly no-risk options generally do not exist in medicine, and probably don’t exist in life. There is some danger in going outside -- and some danger in never doing so.

What matters, then, is the ratio of risk to benefit -- or how one danger compares to another. Measles is highly infectious, and out of every thousand kids who get it, one to two will die. Any decent vaccine is vanishingly less dangerous.
We are unintimidated by measles because we haven’t seen much measles in our lifetimes. We haven’t seen much measles because vaccination works. If measles makes a comeback, it would represent a classic bungle.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.