Measles Cases Hit 17 Year High

Measles cases are at a nearly two decade high, and public health officials think they know why:

(CNN) – This year is on track to be the worst for measles in more than a decade, according to new numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And people who refuse to vaccinate their children are behind the increasing number of outbreaks, health officials say.

There were 159 cases of measles in the United States from January 1 through August 24, according to the CDC. If that trend continues, there will be more cases in 2013 than in any year since 1996, when some 500 cases were reported. The number would also surpass that of 2011, when there were 222 cases.

Measles cases in the United States numbered in the hundreds of thousands before the advent of vaccination, and dropped dramatically throughout the 1960s. The disease was thought to have been eradicated in 2000, but the numbers have recently crept back up, largely because of visitors from countries where measles is common and because of vaccine objectors within the United States. Nearly two-thirds of the reported cases happened in three outbreaks in communities where many people don’t vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons.

“This is very bad. This is horrible,” said Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who was on a telephone briefing with the CDC Thursday morning. “The complications of measles are not to be toyed with, and they’re not altogether rare.”

According to the CDC, one to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States who get measles will die from the disease, even with the best of care. Even if complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis aren’t deadly, they can make children very sick; in 2011, nearly 40% of children under the age of 5 who got measles had to be treated in the hospital.

Measles isn’t the only disease that seems to be making a comeback. Cases of Pertussis, commonly known as Whopping Cough, have also become more common in recent years, with both Texas and Wyoming seeing record outbreaks right now and other jurisdictions reporting higher levels of the disease than they’ve seen in the past.  Obviously, the reasons behind these spikes in diseases previously thought to be under control are complicated but the rise in the past decade or more of the so-called anti-vaccination movement is certainly a large part of it. Based on pseudoscience and internet rumors, parents have increasingly become wary about vaccinating their children for diseases that once had a devastating impact on public health. Now, we’re seeing the result.

FILED UNDER: Health, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    There was an article somewhere (maybe Slate) about whether we could sue parents who hadn’t vaccinated their child, which has led to this type of result. Particularly if their child infected a baby who subsequently died. That’s an interesting debate.

    That said, I can be somewhat sympathetic with people who wonder where the sudden rise of autism, food allergies, and some other illnesses came from. It’s clearly not just an increase in diagnosis. There are some plausible theories, but we just plain don’t know yet. Or at least I don’t!

  2. TheoNott says:

    I’ve lately thought we ought to levy an income-adjusted tax on vaccine objectors. You want to believe in pseudoscience, fine, but you have to absorb the negative externalities you inflict on the rest of us in higher healthcare costs, etc.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    Yeah, but FREEEEDOM!

    (My father suffered from the aftereffects of polio all his life. I have no sympathy for vaccine objectors. Stupidity should hurt.)

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    It’s especially said considering UNICEF and a variety of international organizations ( are desperately trying to raise funds to purchase vaccines that cost pennies, in order to eliminate these same diseases from the developing world. Citizens of these countries view the vaccines that these organizations bring in as gifts from God, and here we reject them for pseudoscience.

    (Personal plug–the campaign I’m on is combating maternal and neonatal tetanus, as well as diphtheria and the above mentioned pertussis: http://www.TheEliminateProject.org)

  5. Rob in CT says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    And, if these diseases were eliminated in the developing world, it would benefit us, as so:

    The disease was thought to have been eradicated in 2000, but the numbers have recently crept back up, largely because of visitors from countries where measles is common and because of vaccine objectors within the United States.

    Enlightened self interest says give some money to help vaccinate people who want it, and yes, condemn those who foolishly refuse it when available.

    Edit: done.

  6. Rob in CT says:

    Thanks, Neil, for working on this stuff and also for giving me an opportunity I needed. My wife and I keep meaning to sit down and “deal with charitable” as we put it for this year. We just had our 2nd child and, well, we’re behind. We don’t normally give on impulse – we select a few and give largish donations to them and call it a year. But that hasn’t been working, so many impulse giving has something going for it.

  7. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Dear Humans,

    Don’t believe everything you think.

    Sincerely,

    The Universe

  8. mattbernius says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    While I’m not anti-vaccine in any sense, I think the following is a bit of an overstatement:

    Citizens of these countries view the vaccines that these organizations bring in as gifts from God, and here we reject them for pseudoscience.

    In the developing work, Middle and Upper class educated people (often who have western mindsets) view the vaccines as a god send. When you get out into the country side things tend to change — often radically. Less educated villagers have historically had to be forced, bribed, or tricked into getting vaccinations.

    The entire thing is pretty complex — as most international aid missions are.

    Still, to your broader point, it is somewhat ironic that a marker of upper-middle-classness in the US is under-vaccination.

    To some degree, the medical industry is to blame for this. The truth is that we are over-vaccinated to the degree that many vaccine schedules assumed non-compliance (i.e. they scheduled more frequent vaccinations with the assumption that people would, at best, get 2 out of 3).

  9. John Burgess says:

    @grumpy realist: This might be righteous justice were it only the children of non-vaccination folk who come down with the diseases. It’s not. Vaccines don’t always offer complete immunity; they only lessen the effects. Even ‘lessened effects’, though, can injure and kill. So, even those who were vaccinated are put at a higher risk.

  10. Neil Hudelson says:

    @mattbernius:

    It was a bit of a hyperbole, but it is worth noting that the issues of delivering vaccines aren’t as widespread as you might think. In some countries–rural Pakistan comes to mind–what you outline is indeed the case. Other countries it’s not nearly as big of a problem.

    A year ago August I spent significant time in rural Guinea (Conakry) and we had no issues with the populace. Most greeted us with outright enthusiasm when the UNICEF trucks pulled up. They did indeed view vaccines as a lifesaving gift.

    It all depends on what relationship the organizations have with the country’s government (both national and local) and what time has been spent making connections with village leaders.

    In countries where organizations like UNICEF have decades of experience, the relationships are such that even less educated villagers accept that vaccines because of the trust they have with the parent organization.

    So while I acknowledge that my description was too simplistic in how vaccines are accepted, your notion that the lesser educated populace often have to be tricked is equally simplistic.

  11. Clivesl says:

    We just received a warning from our kid’s summer day camp that they had a case of whooping cough show up this year. I can virtually guarantee that anyone that did not vaccinate at this camp did so voluntarily.

    I can also guarantee that if one of these morons gets my child sick with a disease that was nearly eradicated decades ago because Jenny McCarthy told them vaccines were bad that I will own their house and anything else my lawyer can take from them.

    As was said earlier, stupidity should hurt.

  12. mattbernius says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    It all depends on what relationship the organizations have with the country’s government (both national and local) and what time has been spent making connections with village leaders.

    Very good point. And this has been a major shift among NGO’s and health ministries in the last two decades.

    So while I acknowledge that my description was too simplistic in how vaccines are accepted, your notion that the lesser educated populace often have to be tricked is equally simplistic.

    Fair. Though I’d still contend that if you look at the history of vaccinations — especially throughout Central, Near, and South East Asia, you will find these situations happening over and over again. Pakistan is a great example of this. So too is rural India.

    To your point, Africa is a different story.

    Again, I’m not trying to portray vaccines as bad. Unfortunately language barriers and limited resources — not to mention in country city vs. rural issues — tend to exacerbate this stuff. Thankfully, to your initial point, this is something that most parties understand and keep working on (an example of critical awareness leading to positive change).

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Rob, I know I’m a bit biased on this, but The Eliminate Project really is a great cause (even if its lesser known compared to other world health campaigns), specifically:

    -Our current admin costs are about eight percent, and are expect to drop even lower as the campaign progresses. Most campaigns have a 15% to 20% admin cost.
    -Gifts go incredibly far–our costs are such that the training of health care workers, creation of proper infrastructure (roads, solar powered refrigerators, etc), and the purchase cost of the vaccines all comes to about $1.80 per woman vaccinated.
    -Every $1.80 not only vaccinates a woman of childbearing years, but through passive immunization it protects all children born to her for a majority of her child bearing years (5 to 10 years, depending on the type of shot, which depends on the country).
    -A portion of funds raised goes to a sustainability fund, to ensure there are continued vaccination drives after the initial elimination of the disease is achieved (we cannot eradicate MNT, like you can with polio–you can only create a system and culture where it is a nuisance rather than a plague).

    I’ll stop plugging personal projects now. Thanks!

  14. Pinky says:

    Neil – It’s no crime to plug projects like that on a thred like this. It’d be too depressing if you didn’t.

  15. CB says:

    @Pinky:

    Seconded. That’s excellent work. Much respect.

  16. mattbernius says:

    @Neil — ‘zactly what @Pinky & @CB said!

    Please plug away. A critical thing — especially in these times of limited finances — is to find worthwhile charities doing good, sustainable work.

    It’s so important to ensure that as much of one’s donations go to fighting the good fight versus paying the salaries and/or expenses of the wrong people.

  17. wr says:

    But we can’t require that parents vaccinate their children, because our friends on the right have decided that anything that’s for the common good is either communism or fascism, and that if (someone else’s) children die unnecessarily that just proves how free we are.

  18. Rob in CT says:

    @mattbernius:

    Exactly. I want to give to charity, but I want to make sure I trust that the money will be well used. I appreciated Neil’s plugging, because it put a reputable charity (with low admin costs) right in front of my face, which helped break my inertia.

  19. Argon says:

    @Franklin:

    That said, I can be somewhat sympathetic with people who wonder where the sudden rise of autism, food allergies, and some other illnesses came from. It’s clearly not just an increase in diagnosis. There are some plausible theories, but we just plain don’t know yet. Or at least I don’t!

    I can be sympathetic but just not to all the stupid and the opportunists like Wakefield who made things worse.

    The one thing we can be pretty damn sure about is that it wasn’t vaccines.

  20. Stonetools says:

    Doug , as a libertarian, aren’t you supposed to be against vaccination schemes? Isn’t that that big gumint “socialized medicine?”

  21. mantis says:

    I get all my medical advice from Playboy bimbos. What could go wrong!

  22. wr says:

    @Stonetools: Libertarians don’t mind vaccinations that keep them from getting sick, but it really pisses them off that it also keeps disease from spreading to other people — moochers.