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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Unvaccinated blamed for largest measles outbreak in 15 years



needle.jpgVaccine debates often get heated, but the evidence is mounting that too many unvaccinated children, according to new research, are playing a part in the largest U.S. outbreak of measles to occur in 15 years. The outbreak is blamed also on people who travel to foreign countries where the vaccine isn't as prevalent. But it dovetails with the decision many U.S. parents make to skip the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine for their children, out of what many experts call misguided fears over its safety.

Before the vaccine became available in the 1960s, up to 4 million people contracted measles every year, the CDC said. Nowadays, the agency sees  0 to 70 cases a year. But this year there were 214 as of Oct. 14. Among those people infected, 86 percent were unvaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown. Thirteen percent were under 1 year old, and therefore too young for vaccination.

"The ongoing fear of the measles vaccine and the myths about measles vaccine and autism just won't go away -- and put us at continuous risk," said Dr. Andrew Pavia, professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah and spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), to USA Today for a story this week. One such myth, according to most experts, is that the shot might cause autism in children. That notion spread after a British researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, published a study in The Lancet in 1998 claiming a link. The research was later discovered to be fraudulent, however, and the journal has since retracted the article.

Pavia stressed that when parents decide against vaccinating their child, their action may affect other kids, as well.

"Your child might get measles and do well. But if you are the one who brings measles back into the community and your child infects someone else in the classroom who can't be vaccinated because of being immunocompromised, you might be responsible for the death of another child or an infant who can't be vaccinated," he said.

While 214 cases may not seem much in a country of 300 million, it is striking when the average outbreak in recent years has been around 70 people.

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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[Last modified: Monday, October 24, 2011 4:31pm]


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