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Measles: No Longer Eradicated in the United States

Measles: No Longer Eradicated in the United States

Here’s one for the-you-can’t-believe-it-until-you-see-it department: There’s a children’s book called Melanie’s Marvelous Measles by an anti-vaccination activist that tells kids they should look forward to contracting this potentially fatal disease. Really!? Let’s go back in time.

From 1958 to 1962, the U.S. averaged 503,282 cases and 432 deaths from measles complications annually—children were dying from pneumonia, croup and encephalitis!

After the vaccine was introduced, measles became so rare that it was declared eradicated in 2000. But resistance to inoculation, a five percent vaccine failure rate and travel by unvaccinated folks to where measles still exists, reversed the trend. In 2014 there were 634 cases in the U.S.!

New insights into post-measles complications are again worrying public health officials and parents of newborns (infants can’t get vaccinated until they’re 12 to 15 months). Recent research has shown an always-fatal complication of measles—the neurological disorder subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE)—is far more common than previously thought. It affects about one in 600 of those who get measles as infants, before being vaccinated. And SSPE doesn’t necessarily appear immediately; it can stay dormant and strike a person years later.

So, if you or your children haven’t been vaccinated, talk to your doctor (the risk of a serious side effect from the vaccine is 40,000 times less than the risk of a serious complication from measles itself). Measles is so contagious that 95 percent of people need to be vaccinated with two doses to protect those who aren't. Currently in the U.S., we’re only at 92 percent.

Medically reviewed in February 2019.

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