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Not long ago, measles was virtually extinct in America.
Now the disease is back and spreading fast, and we have our own willful ignorance to blame.
Consider “The Brady Bunch.”
Some vaccine skeptics have even used an episode of the ’70s sitcom, in which the family cheerfully comes down with measles, to dismiss the seriousness of the disease. Maureen McCormick, the actress who played Marcia, is not pleased.
And she’s right. This is no laughing matter.
Measles cases have surged to a 25-year high in the United States. As of May 3, there were 764 reported cases in 23 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Measles is highly contagious. A quarter of those who contract it require hospitalization. Roughly two of every 1,000 people who are infected die. Two weeks ago in Los Angeles County, California, more than 1,000 students and staff members at UCLA and California State University, Los Angeles were quarantined on campus or sent home after measles cases began to surface.
Part of the problem is a fear of vaccinations, fueled by a viral myth that getting the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, shot can cause serious side effects, including autism. That myth is rooted in a thoroughly discredited 1998 British paper that was so flawed that it was withdrawn by its publisher.
But some people hold fast to the misinformation and have used religious exemptions to avoid vaccinations. Complicating matters is a troubling outbreak of measles outside of the country. Globally, the number of reported measles cases rose to more than 112,000 in the first three months of 2019, according to the World Health Organization. That represents a 300 percent increase over the number of cases during the same period in 2018. The outbreaks are occurring in countries frequented by U.S. travelers, who can bring the disease home with them.
Pair that with the anti-vaccination movement and, well, the picture is deeply concerning.
North Carolina has been fortunate — for now. No one has reported measles cases, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services says.
Even so, we have seen what happens in this state when parents resist vaccinating their children. An Asheville school last fall saw the worst chickenpox outbreak in the North Carolina since 1995. Thirty-six students contracted the disease at the Asheville Waldorf School, where nearly 75% of the 152 students were unvaccinated.
Nineteen of the 28 kindergartners who enrolled in the school for the 2017-18 school year had an exemption to at least one state-required vaccination, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported. In fact, Buncombe County leads the state in religious exemptions for vaccinations for kindergartners with a rate of 5.7 percent.
That county’s chief medical officer now worries about the threat of measles, given that cases have been reported in nearby Atlanta, Spartanburg, South Carolina, and most recently, eastern Tennessee.
Ironically, those who hew to the anti-vaccination fictions are typically well-educated and well-off financially, and they cross party lines. We can only hope their better judgment, if not their better angels, eventually prevails.
They are placing themselves and their loved ones at risk by avoiding immunization.
Not to mention the rest of us.