Why This Year’s Measles Outbreak is Concerning and May Break Records

January 27, 2015 Updated: March 10, 2015

In 2014 the United States had a record number of measles cases: 644 cases in 27 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It was by far the most cases “since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000,” according to the CDC. Measles is endemic in some other countries, and people can bring it here by traveling. It is extremely contagious, and can lead to deadly pneumonia, ear infections, and deafness.

Between 2000 and 2013, cases stayed around 100 or 200 across the country, but, like 2014, this year is off to a fast start, and most of those who became ill were unvaccinated.

From Jan. 1 to Jan. 23, 2015, 68 people from 11 states were reported to have measles, according to the CDC. Most of those measles cases are part of an outbreak linked to Disneyland in California.

The measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland has grown to 87 cases, as of Jan. 27. The California Department of Public Health said Monday 73 of the infections are in California. The rest are in Arizona, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Nebraska, and Mexico.

“Increased numbers of unvaccinated children in the general population inevitably must lead to more cases of measles in the future,” said Joe Alton, M.D., in an email. Alton is the author of “The Survival Medicine Handbook,” about medical preparedness relating to disasters and epidemics.

He described how a newspaper series of articles published in Wales, Great Britain, linking vaccines to autism had led to large numbers of cases in Wales in 2013.

“Vaccination of the grand majority of children affords some protection to the unvaccinated; this is known as herd immunity.”

Once the percentage of vaccinated people drops below a certain level, herd immunity fails to be effective and epidemics may erupt, the doctor explained. 

Fearful Parents

But a substantial minority of parents are concerned about side effects associated with vaccines, according to a research report by The Profitable Practice, published by the consultancy firm Software Advice.

Emily King said in an email “31 percent were most concerned about the possibilities for long-term side effects from vaccines.” Her publication surveyed 1,360 parents with children under age 18 to determine how to effectively increase awareness and alleviate vaccine-related anxieties, according to King.

Vaccination of the grand majority of children affords some protection to the unvaccinated; this is known as herd immunity.
— Joe Alton, M.D.

A majority, 52 percent, would keep their children up to date on vaccines if their doctors directly explained the reasons for doing so and the chances, or unlikeliness, of adverse effects.

Among the most dreaded adverse effects is autism. Scientists do not agree that vaccines cause autism, but the fear of such a life-altering effect persists.

Luis Bayardo has two sons who developed autism, and he has not allowed his youngest child to have the MMR: Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine. He wrote “Autism: A Dad’s Journey,” about his family’s experience.

In an email he said: “I have two autistic boys, and one developed late onset autism only after getting his MMR at the age of 4 ½. Much later than is typical for late onset autism. My wife believes that the MMR or something associated with the MMR in some ways trigged the autism. I understand that the studies prove this to be false but a life with autism for my last child is a very scary thought.”

He said if it were possible to have only the measles vaccine alone, he would allow his daughter to have it.

Too often doctors simply make a pamphlet available, when a conversation would be more helpful.

Doctors also seem to have a consensus about the measles vaccine. “The measles vaccine is safe and effective; it is responsible for the control of measles we have achieved in many nations,” wrote Amesh A. Adalja, MD. He is a Senior Associate at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and School of Medicine.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article gave incorrect information about one of the areas where cases of measles have been found. It was not in New Mexico. It was in Mexico. Epoch Times regrets the error.