Friday, May 2, 2014

Why are we seeing Measles again?

Blog contributed by Kathleen Zimmerman, MD,  Pediatrician

In recent news there have been a multitude of stories on increasing outbreaks of measles.   Measles was almost eradicated by the year 2000, so why are we seeing measles again?

Measles is spread by a very contagious virus.  The virus is spread as easily as influenza virus.  Therefore once a case comes into a community, it quickly spreads to those who have not been vaccinated. Widespread vaccination against measles creates “ herd immunity”.   This is the best protection a community can have from measles outbreaks.  Herd immunity stops isolated cases of measles from spreading into an epidemic.

Vaccination rates have declined in certain areas of the United States and these are the areas that have “holes” in the herd immunity and these are the communities that are having increasing outbreaks of measles.   California’s cases went up from 4 last year to 58 as of this month (and will be higher by the time you see this blog).

Vaccination refusal and delays are most commonly due to misconceptions about vaccine safety.  Also many young parents have never seen measles before and they do not understand that just 50 years ago there were 500,000 Americans infected with measles per year with 48,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths each year.   The near eradication of this deadly disease 14 years ago was achieved by vaccination.  The return of this disease in exponential numbers is occurring because of vaccine refusal.

It’s important for parents to realize that when they refuse or delay vaccines for their child, they are not only putting their own child at risk, but also their whole community.   This couldn't be exemplified more clearly than in what we are seeing unfold in our country with the current measles outbreaks.


  1. Now I have a 2 year old and there was just something on the News today 6-5-2014 about a Measles potential exposure to a case of measles in Dauphin County, now it says that, the MMR vaccine is given to toddlers when they are 12 to 15 months of age, and a second dose is required for all Pennsylvania school children. However, individuals who have received only one dose of the vaccine, instead of the recommended two doses, may still be at risk of infection with this virus, officials said. So since my child is only 2 years old and not in school yet should, she be vaccinated for another one or not?

    1. If your 2 year old son was not directly exposed to a known measles case or was not at any of the locations listed in the article on the given dates, then a second vaccine would not be recommended yet. If there is known exposure and/or he was at those locations on those dates, then he should get a second vaccine and/ or the immune globulin.

      Under regular circumstances, the reason the second dose of MMR is given at 4 or 5 yo is to provide additional protection to those kids who may not have developed a full immune response to the first vaccine. This protects the school age kids more from "break through " cases of Measles (and mumps and rubella).

      If your child would get a second dose of MMR now, he could also get one at 5 years old- this would not be harmful.

      I hope that clears things up. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

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