Measles, one of the most communicable of all infectious diseases, is spiking in the United States, with three times as many cases as usual this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. The spike is due to both foreign importations — infected travelers coming from places where measles is not under control — and local vulnerability: unvaccinated children and adults in the United States.
In a press briefing, the CDC’s director Dr. Thomas Frieden said that from January to November, there were 175 known cases of measles in the US, with 20 of those people having to be hospitalized. The agency would expect to see about 60 cases, he said. Those cases came from 52 separate travelers. Most of the time, the imported virus found only a few people to infect — but nine times, the imports caused large outbreaks, always in people who had not received the vaccine.
“It is not a failure of the vaccine,” Frieden said. “It’s a failure to vaccinate. Around 90 percent of the people who have had measles in this country were not vaccinated either because they refused, or were not vaccinated on time.”
If 175 cases doesn’t sound like much, consider measles’ impact. It isn’t just an itchy rash; it can cause deafness and encephalitis, and miscarriage in pregnant women. Before the measles vaccine was achieved 50 years ago, the disease killed 2.6 million people around the world every year. Its cost to society is huge. A single importation of measles into Arizona in 2008, via an unvaccinated, infected Swiss tourist, caused a 14-person outbreak; compelled the Arizona Department of Health to track down and interview 8,321 people; caused seven Tucson hospitals to furlough staff members for a combined 15,120 work-hours; and forced two hospitals to spend $799,136 to contain the disease.
When will one (or more) of the moning news shows that gave Jenny McCarthy airtime to talk about vaccines and autism, have her back on to discuss this story?