Your child has a cough, runny nose, sore throat and a high fever. The symptoms point to a cold. Then white spots appear in the mouth and red spots on the face, and your family pediatrician says its measles. Distressed, you say, “I thought measles were a thing of the past.”
Measles were a thing of the past in the United States, just like polio, which destroyed many lives until Jonas Salk in the early 1950s discovered a vaccine. Measles also were fought vigorously back then because the consequences were so deadly.
Before measles vaccines became commonplace in the early 1960s, an estimated 3 million to 4 million Americans a year contracted measles, and 400 to 500 died. Survivors often suffered blindness, deafness and neurological disabilities. Measles were not taken lightly; people wanted a vaccine because too many families suffered too much.
That’s why the resurgence of measles and other preventable illnesses is so distressing. Parents who miss scheduled inoculations or believe the myth that vaccines cause autism are erasing decades of medical progress and putting us all at risk. How misguided, dangerous and selfish is that when history shows us a safe vaccine is available? The measles outbreak at Disneyland last month should sound an alarm that vaccinations aren’t optional.
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The latest measles outbreak has spread toward the 100 mark across several states in just a matter of weeks.
The irony is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared measles eradicated in the United States in 2000. In 2001, there were about 100 measles cases nationally; last year there were 644 in 27 states, including Texas. Infections are certain to surpass last year’s total and cost millions of dollars in health care. Vaccinations could have prevented this hard-to-control spread.