Measles on the March

This potentially deadly disease threatens an unwanted return, but vaccination can stop it.



Here's one "comeback kid" you don’t want to root for. Though measles was declared “eliminated” from the U.S. in 2000, 644 cases were reported last year to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And by March 6 of 2015, there were 173 cases in 27 states — including New Jersey.

It isn’t a full-fledged return yet, to be sure. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, 3 to 4 million Americans each year contracted this disease, famous for its trademark red rash but also known to cause fever, cough, runny nose and sometimes other complications that could be confused with allergies and other illnesses. The outbreaks that now affect Americans can be traced to other parts of the world where the disease is still more common. But even small outbreaks are a big concern, because measles is extremely contagious.

How contagious? “If one person in a room of 10 has it, the other nine will get it,” says Julia Piwoz, M.D., chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital.

Why is this menace, once given a knockout blow, rising from the canvas? the answer is simple: too many parents are failing to inoculate their children. The United States was able to reduce measles cases to nearly nil because a highly effective measles vaccine and a strong vaccination program that achieved high coverage in children had been successful for more than 30 years. After 1963, the number of measles cases dropped dramatically, and in 2004 only 37 cases were reported—a record low. However, since then more and more parents have refused vaccination.

It can also be quite serious, with complications such as diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia and, more rarely, encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, which can be fatal. These complications are more common among children under age five and anyone with a compromised immune system. Says Dr. Piwoz, “It’s a very serious virus. of people who contract it, typically one in four are hospitalized and one in 500 will die.”

Fortunately, the comeback can be slowed down significantly. And while we can’t close america’s borders, we can help prevent outbreaks in the U.S. “Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent measles,” says Dr. Piwoz.

Learn more by visiting the CDC’s website, cdc.gov, and searching “measles.”

Debunking the autism myth

If you’re keeping your family away from vaccinations even partly because you think they may be associated with autism, think again. “There is no scientific evidence linking the vaccine with autism,” says Julia Piwoz, M.D., chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the Joseph m. Sanzari children’s hospital. Independent reviews by the national academy of Sciences’ Institute of medicine and others have concluded that there is no association between the measles, mumps and rubella (mmr) vaccine and autism.

Much of the public fear and misunderstanding on this topic stems from a research paper released years ago—and subsequently discredited—that cited data linking vaccinations to autism.

In fact, the paper was officially withdrawn and declared “utterly false” by The Lancet, the British medical journal that had published it. Dr. Piwoz weighs in: “the vaccine is safe and effective and saves lives.”

To learn more, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) and search “vaccines and autism.”

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