Measles was officially eliminated from the US in 2000, but its alarming comeback over the last year has reignited criticism of “anti-vaxxers,” a growing segment of individuals who don’t vaccinate because they believe that autism is caused by vaccinations, among other reasons.
This is a risky stance. Vaccines are incredibly effective at controlling and eliminating infectious diseases. Because the viruses and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable diseases are still out there, stopping vaccinations makes people extremely susceptible to infections that can kill or severely disable them.
The chart below gives some examples of how disease levels have declined since vaccinations began. Since the introduction of the measles, or MMR vaccine, annual cases of the illness have dropped by a jaw-dropping 99%. A large number of those cases can result in pneumonia and the most serious can cause encephalitis, a tragic brain illness that can leave its victims deaf, blind, or brain damaged — if they survive at all.
An increase in vaccine exemptions in children over the last several years, however, is slowly chipping away at that 99% number.
A record 644 measles cases were recorded in the United States in 2014, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 150 cases of measles have been reported across the US since January, with California officials diagnosing four more people on Monday. The majority of illnesses are linked to an outbreak that began at Disneyland in California in December.
“An increasing number of parents in this country are hesitant to have their children vaccinated,” researchers explained in a recent paper in The New England Journal of Medicine. “Such hesitancy has resulted in an accumulation of unvaccinated populations who can become infected and maintain transmission.”
Measles is a highly infectious disease that spreads through the air through sneezing or coughing. Because measles is airborne, it is roughly nine times more contagious than Ebola.
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