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Fever Pitch: Measles disease makes worldwide resurgence

Chris Patino, Assistant News Editor

The number of reported measles case are on the rise in the United States, with the first three months of 2019 outnumbering the grand totals of years prior. 


As of March 7th, 12 states have confirmed cases of measles in 2019, with a preliminary case count of 228, according to data from the CDC. The total number of measles cases report for all of 2018 was 372. 


The recent outbreak has become a global concern. 2017 saw a 30 percent increase in reported measles cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A study conducted by the medical journal The Lancet found that 63 percent of the 626,289 cases reported between 2013 and 2017 were categorized as “preventable,” meaning that if children had received both doses of the two-part vaccine, there is a strong probability that they would have avoided infection. 


“So far, we have only seen small, sporadic outbreaks of the disease in the US, but the potential for something larger certainly exists, especially as the number of unprotected individuals in the population increases,” said Dr. James Rago, Professor of Biology.


The virus was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but in recent years the number of cases has been going up. The majority of the people who have been infected are unvaccinated. 


“Non-compliance with vaccine schedules has certainly been shown to play a big role in this latest outbreak, but other factors do come into play,” said Rago.


Legitimate reasons for vaccine avoidance may include a family history of adverse reactions or religious beliefs. Dr. Rago believes there may be others that want to get vaccinated, but either don’t believe they can afford the visit to doctor’s office or simply forget to get the shot. “Fortunately, in many communities, proof of vaccinations is necessary to participate in school, and/or other structured, public activities,” said Rago. 

Misinformation about the MMR vaccine, used against measles, mumps and rubella, has led to much skepticism regarding the safety of the vaccine. A 1990s study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was found to be fraudulent, with numerous studies released since finding no risk of autism through vaccination. 


The reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of the resource is termed as  “vaccine hesitancy.” While not wholly responsible for the increase in measles cases, this hesitance and the anti-vaccination movement are attributable to the virus’ revival. The WHO lists “vaccine hesitancy” as a top 10 threat to global health in 2019.


“This is a wake-up call. We have a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine against a highly contagious disease – a vaccine that has saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades,” said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, in an interview with TIME magazine. 


Children are required to get two shots to be considered fully vaccinated. A full vaccination has a 97 percent effective rate at preventing measles. 


In order to secure outbreak prevention, the two-dose per individual global coverage needs to be at 95 percent. Recent WHO estimates have coverage at 85 percent of the first dose and 67 percent for the second. 


Measles is among a number of viruses making a comeback on  University itself had an outbreak of the mumps virus that put the campus in a state of uproar, leading to the rescheduling of the Fall ’18 Commencement ceremony. 


“I believe that the obvious answer is the correct one here,” said Rago, “Non-compliance with vaccine schedules can have all sorts of serious repercussions, not only for the unprotected individual(s), but also for the general health of the population as a whole.”