Measles might be preparing for a comeback tour.
Unlike Ebola, measles easily leaps between people. Virus-filled droplets linger, floating in the air or coating a coffee table for up to two hours after a contagious person coughs or sneezes. If you’re susceptible to the disease and you breathe that air or touch a contaminated surface and then rub your eyes, you’re screwed. Measles infects 90 percent of those who are not immune.
And it’s not just a week of misery that results. Before a vaccine was developed in the 1960s, measles caused more than 2 million deaths per year, typically when the virus severely infects the lungs or brain.
That’s why the globe has tried so hard since 2000 to eliminate the disease. Since 2000, vaccination initiatives have prevented 15.6 million deaths, mostly of children under age 5.
So measles had been on a steady decline. But since 2007, the numbers have stayed about the same. Last year, the global death tally jumped to 145,000 deaths versus 122,000 in 2012, according to a new report published by the World Health Organization.
Here are some additional facts about the disease, from immunizationinfo.org:
Measles encephalitis (an infection of the brain) occurs in 1 per 1,000 cases of natural measles, frequently resulting in permanent brain damage in the survivors. Approximately 5% of children (500 out of 10,000) with measles will develop pneumonia. In addition, 1 to 3 of every 1,000 children who get measles in the United States dies from the disease.
Death is more common in infants, in malnourished children, and among immunocompromised persons, including those with leukemia and HIV infection.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a rare fatal illness caused by ongoing measles virus infection of the brain. Symptoms of brain damage usually begin 7 to 10 years after infection. Death occurs 1-3 years after the onset of symptoms. Risk factors for developing SSPE include developing measles infection at a young age. The incidence of SSPE is estimated to be between 7-11 cases/100,000 cases of measles. Measles vaccine virus was not associated with SSPE.
They have this to say about the immunization, and risks it presents on its own:
Known Side EffectsTop
Nearly all children who get the MMR vaccine (more than 80%) will have no side effects. Most children who have a side effect will have only a mild reaction, such as soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, mild rash, mild to moderate fever, swelling of the lymph glands, and temporary pain, stiffness, or temporary swelling in the joints.
In about 5% to 15% of children given MMR, a fever in excess of 103 degrees F may occur—usually beginning about 7 to 12 days after the vaccine has been administered.
About 15% of women who receive MMR will develop acute arthritis or swelling of the joints. This condition is usually very short-lived.
In rare cases (about 3 children out of 10,000 given MMR, or 0.03% of recipients) a moderate reaction such as seizure related to high fever may occur. The risk of a febrile seizure after the first dose of MMRV is increased by an additional child per 1000 (compared to children who got MMR and varicella vaccine at different sites on the same day).
In very rare cases (far less than 1 child out of 10,000 given MMR), children have a serious reaction, such as lowered consciousness, coma, or hypersensitivity (anaphylaxis)—swelling inside the mouth, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, and rarely, shock. Even more rarely, children may have low blood platelets that can lead to a temporary bleeding problem that is described in more detail in the “Related Issues” section below. Since 1990, there have been 11 case reports of anaphylaxis in those who received the vaccine. Thirty to 40 million children were vaccinated during this time period. No children who experienced such a reaction died as a result.
In extremely rare cases (less than 1 child out of 1,000,000 given measles vaccine) children have developed encephalitis 6-15 days after vaccination.
MMR side effects are largely due to the measles vaccine that it contains. Adverse reactions to the monovalent mumps vaccine are rare.
Reimmunization with MMR vaccine is not associated with an increased incidence of reactions even when a person is already immune to one or more of the viruses.
So, no one is claiming that immunization is without its own risks. They are just much lower than the risks associated with getting the disease.
People who refuse to immunize their children are counting on the rest of us to do it so that their children are exposed to neither risk. Shame on you.