Tag Archives: measles

Measles infected 10 million, claimed over 142,000 lives last year

After decades of progress against measles, the highly contagious yet vaccine-preventable disease is making a slow and steady comeback. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention said in a new report that there were nearly 10 million cases of measles and 142,000 deaths, with outbreaks on every continent.

“Our finding is that in 2018, there’s been an increase in both the cases and the deaths that have occurred from measles,” Dr. Kate O’Brien, director of WHO’s immunization program, said in a video release. “In other words, we’re backsliding.”

Poor vaccination coverage and large pockets of unvaccinated children have resulted in devastating measles outbreaks in many parts of the world – including in countries that had high coverage rates or had previously eliminated the disease. In some cases, conflict, security or a breakdown in services are making it hard to reach children in remote or hard-to-reach areas. In others, parents are not vaccinating their children due to complacency, mistrust or misinformation about vaccines. This year, for example, the United States reported its highest number of cases in 25 years, while four countries in Europe — Albania, Czechia, Greece, and the United Kingdom — lost their measles elimination status in 2018 following protracted outbreaks.

Samoa and the Asia Pacific

The latest region to be affected is Asia Pacific, where measles is being reported even in places where the disease had been eliminated such as Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. In Samoa, the Government has declared a state of emergency, and all schools are temporarily closed. According to the latest data released by the Government, measles had already claimed 63 lives, mostly young children.

More than 4,300 cases have been reported among a relatively small population, and new cases are being reported daily. According to estimates from UNICEF and WHO, vaccination coverage in Samoa plummeted from 58 percent in 2017 to just 31 percent in 2018, largely due to misinformation and mistrust among parents.

Five countries account for almost half of measles cases in 2018

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): Immunization services have been hampered since 2018 because of poor infrastructure, violence and insecurity, attacks on health centers, lack of access to healthcare, shortages of vaccines and lack of trust in health workers.

The situation has further deteriorated in 2019, with more than a quarter of a million people infected this year alone, more than three times the number of measles cases in 2018 and more than the number of cases and deaths attributed to Ebola in the country. Most of the 5,000 reported deaths so far this year were among children under five. UNICEF has provided the Ministry of Health with 8 million doses of bundled measles-containing vaccines, and distributed over 1,300 medical kits – containing antibiotics, rehydration salts, Vitamin A and other medicines – to all affected health zones to treat children with complications.

Liberia: The outbreak began in 2017 due to low vaccine coverage. In 2018, the country had recorded the highest number of cases, with outbreaks reported in 5 out of 15 counties, and recorded about 3,948 suspected cases including 16 deaths. The recurrent outbreaks continued through 2019, even though the number of cases has declined.

Madagascar: From August 2018 to November 2019, there were 244,607 cases of measles, and 1,080 died due to measles, of which 91 percent were children under 14 years old. Although the rate of new cases is significantly decreasing, some districts are still reporting cases. UNICEF has helped purchase 8.7 million doses of measles vaccine and supported the government to distribute these vaccines at the local level.

Somalia: In 2018, low vaccination coverage, and crowded living conditions created ideal conditions for the spread of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The number of cases has substantially reduced this year compared to 2018, thanks to immunization campaigns supported by UNICEF and partners of the Measles & Rubella Initiative.

Ukraine: Since the start of the outbreak in 2017, over 115,000 people have been infected with 41 deaths, including 25 children. In 2018 alone, there were over 54,000 cases and 16 deaths. Cases remained at alarming levels in 2019. Over 58,000 cases were registered until 6 November 2019, with 20 deaths. UNICEF has increased its support to the Ministry of Health to vaccinate more children by training health care workers and promoting vaccines. UNICEF has also provided support to accelerate routine immunization across the country and address vaccine hesitancy.

In the Americas, Brazil listed 11,887 cases, most of which were reported in Sao Paulo. Two outbreaks in New York state in the US have been declared over, though the WHO says other outbreaks are occurring throughout the country.

Measles is among the most infectious diseases and can be prevented with two doses of vaccine. Even with the implementation of routine immunization, measles continues to circulate globally due to sub-optimal vaccination coverage and population immunity gaps. Any community with less than 95% population immunity is at risk for an outbreak. If an outbreak response is not timely and comprehensive, the virus will find its way into more pockets of vulnerable individuals and potentially spread within and beyond the affected countries. As long as measles continues to circulate anywhere in the world, no country can be assured to avoid importation. 

Measles cases spike globally with a 26% increase from last year

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday released an update on global measles cases, noting a spike in the number of cases confirmed.

As of Nov. 5, there were more than 440,200 measles cases worldwide reported to WHO, a 26% increase from 350,000 cases in 2018. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 110,000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five. The potentially deadly illness, which can be easily prevented with vaccinations, continues to spike globally, with multiple large outbreaks being reported across Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

DR Congo posts huge numbers

The most shocking numbers were posted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which registered a total of 250,270 cases on November 17, an increase of 8,000 cases over the week prior. Some 5,110 measles-related deaths were registered in the DRC. Elsewhere in Africa, Chad reported 25,596 cases as of November 17, affecting 94% of the country’s districts. Whereas the DRC is currently issuing vaccinations, Chad has yet to do so.

© UNICEF/Thomas Nybo
A nurse prepares to vaccinate an infant during a regularly-scheduled immunization clinic in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Outbreaks in every corner of the world

In the Americas, Brazil listed 11,887 cases, most of which were reported in Sao Paulo. Two outbreaks in New York state in the US have been declared over, though the WHO says other outbreaks are occurring throughout the country.

Paul Martinka | Bill de Blasio and Dr. Oxiris Barbot during a press conference

In Europe, Ukraine far outpaced other countries, reporting some 56,802 cases, followed by Kazakhstan with 10,126 cases, Georgia with 3,904 cases, Russian Federation with 3,521 cases, Turkey with 2,666 cases, and Kyrgyzstan with 2,228 cases of measles. Some of these outbreaks (e.g. Georgia, Russian Federation, Turkey) have resolved.

A measles epidemic in Samoa has killed 39 people, with the WHO blaming an anti-vaccine messaging campaign for leaving the Pacific island nation vulnerable to the spread of the virus. The UN health agency warned that a steep decline in vaccination rates in Samoa had paved the way for a “huge outbreak”, with almost 3,000 in a country of just 200,000 people.

Measles is among the most infectious diseases and can be prevented with two doses of vaccine. Even with implementation of routine immunization, measles continues to circulate globally due to sub-optimal vaccination coverage and population immunity gaps.

Any community with less than 95% population immunity is at risk for an outbreak. If an outbreak response is not timely and comprehensive, the virus will find its way into more pockets of vulnerable individuals and potentially spread within and beyond the affected countries. As long as measles continues to circulate anywhere in the world, no country can be assured to avoid importation. 

Scientist Ian Mackay, who specializes in virology at the University of Queensland, said the rhetoric peddled on social media was “not correct”. Some claim a suggested alternative to getting vaccinated is high doses of Vitamin A, which experts say cannot prevent getting the measles infection and is not based on evidence. “The only way to prevent getting measles — the disease — is to have the vaccine, and have both doses of it,” he said.

“No other personal medications or vitamin concoction or magical oil will prevent that virus from spreading. It’s only vaccination.”

The World Health Organisation’s Nikki Turner said online misinformation claiming children could be treated with vitamins had “no scientific evidence” behind them, and that such claims were “conning” people from getting correct treatment, the Samoa Observer reported last week.

For the Nth time – measles is bad. Here’s why…

Measles is a highly contagious virus that initially causes a runny nose, sneezing and fever and later leads to a blotchy rash starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body. The majority of the people infected will recover, but measles can cause diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration, middle ear infection (otitis media), which can lead to hearing loss, or pneumonia or potentially fatal encephalitis (swelling in the brain).

When people get an infection, their immune system produces antibodies to fight the infection. After the body gets rid of the infection, special immune cells remember that specific pathogen and help the body mount a faster defense if that same pathogen invades the body again. But not with measles. The virus reboots children’s immune system and the “amnesia” makes them vulnerable to other pathogens that they might have been protected from a previous infection.

In one study [M.J. Mina et al., Science, 366:599–606, 2019], measles infection in unvaccinated children in a community in the Netherlands was associated with up to a 70% decline in antibodies to other pathogens following infection. After cases of severe measles, unvaccinated children lost a median of 40% (range 11-62%) of their already existing pathogen-specific antibodies and after a case of mild measles, children lost a median of 33% (range 12-73%) of these pre-existing antibodies.

On the other hand, kids vaccinated retained over 90% of their antibody repertoires over the same period. The researchers examined blood from 77 unvaccinated children infected with measles in the Netherlands during a 2013 outbreak and compared these samples with the blood of 115 uninfected children and adults using the VirScan system, a tool that detects antiviral and antibacterial antibodies in the blood. Samples were taken prior to and after measles infection.

The team found that rather than a simple loss of total IgG, the most common type of antibody found in blood circulation, there is a restructuring of the antibody repertoire after measles. This is the first study to measure the immune damage caused by the virus and is further evidence for the “immune amnesia” hypothesis (that by depleting antibody repertoires, measles partially obliterates immune memory to previously encountered pathogens).

The same investigators also infected macaques with measles and monitored their antibodies against other pathogens for five months. The measles-infected monkeys lost 40–60% of their antibodies against pathogens they have previously encountered suggesting that measles infection wipes out long-lived plasma cells in the bone marrow that can create pathogen-specific antibodies.

A separate, independent team published a related study [V. N. Petrova et al., Sci Immunol, 4:2019] showing that measles infection causes incomplete reconstitution of the naïve B cell (not exposed to an antigen) leading to immunological immaturity and compromised immune memory to previously encountered pathogens due to depletion of memory B lymphocytes that persist after measles infection. The study provides a clear biological explanation for the observed increase in childhood deaths and secondary infections several years after an episode of measles.

These two new studies emphasize the importance of measles vaccination and suggest that given these findings, booster shots against other illnesses, such as hepatitis or polio, may be necessary for children infected with measles.

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 110 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five. The actual number of people infected with measles is most probably higher given that the WHO only collects data on cases confirmed through lab testing or clinical visits excluding thousands who do not seek medical attention.

With the global trend of vaccine hesitancy, skeptical parents are refusing to get their children vaccinated due to false concerns about their safety. These 2 new studies add strong evidence and undoubtedly confirm what scientists and public health experts have known all along: measles bad, vaccines good. This time let’s remember… let’s not have amnesia that measles can cause immune amnesia.

UK, Greece, Czech Republic, Albania — no longer measles-free

Because of several measles outbreaks in the UK, Greece, Czech Republic, and Albania, these Four European states are no longer considered “measles-free.”

Measles is considered eliminated when there is no endemic disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area, and this is no longer the case for these countries.

Measles is highly contagious and dangerous. Common complications include diarrhea and vomiting (which can lead to dehydration) middle ear infection (otitis media), inflammation of the voice box (laryngitis), infections of the airways and lungs, and fits caused by fever (febrile seizures). Measles is also potentially fatal. Other severe complications include blindness and, for pregnant women, miscarriage.

“Re-establishment of measles transmission is concerning. If high immunization coverage is not achieved and sustained in every community, both children and adults will suffer unnecessarily and some will tragically die,” warned Gunter Pfaff, the head of the WHO’s European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination.

Close to 365,000 cases have been reported worldwide this year according to the WHO — almost three times as many as in the first half of 2018. There were 89,994 cases of measles in 48 European countries in the first six months of 2019, more than double the number in the same period in 2018. Already, there have been more than the 84,462 cases reported for all of 2018.

The UK reported 953 cases in 2018 and 489 for the first six months of 2019. In the same period of time, Greece reported 2,193 (vs 28 in 2018), Albania 1,466, and the Czech Republic 217. Based on 2018 data, the disease can no longer consider eliminated in the UK, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania. The main reason for this is the insufficient vaccination rate — most people get vaccinated, but not everyone, which raises the potential for spreading the disease.

“Each of these countries are examples that have extremely high national vaccination coverage. So these are not examples of countries that have particularly weak systems,” said Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s Immunization Department. “This is the alarm bell that is ringing around the world: being able to achieve high national coverage is not enough, it has to be achieved in every community, and every family for every child,” she said.

While the disease is highly contagious, it can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine. According to the WHO, more than 20 million deaths have been prevented around the globe between 2000 and 2016 thanks to measles vaccination.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on health leaders to address the issue. Current statistics show that current second-round vaccinations for children in the UK are at only 87.2%. The first doe is only partially effective — it’s the second one that renders the body immune to the disease. Mary Ramsay, of the government agency Public Health England, states, “Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.”

The resurgence of a preventable disease

Globally, the picture is also concerning. Worldwide, the number of cases for January 1 to July 31 this year tripled to 364,808, compared with 129,239 during the same seven months last year. The highest numbers of cases were reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, and Ukraine. The United States also registered its highest number of cases in 25 years. The numbers are especially worrying as 90% of all cases go unrecorded worldwide, according to WHO.

The disease had been officially eliminated in many countries with advanced healthcare systems, with numbers steadily decreasing until 2016 when a resurgence began. Austria and Switzerland were confirmed to have elimination status in 2018. Measles has been eliminated in 35 of the 53 countries in the WHO’s European region for 2018, from 37 in 2017. Early this year, Sri Lanka has been declared measles-free.

Across the Atlantic, Americans have already suffered a record high measles outbreak in 2019. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a report showing that there were 1,172 cases so far with 124 hospitalizations and 64 reported serious health complications.

According to the WHO, the reasons for people not being vaccinated vary significantly between communities and countries, with a lack of access to quality healthcare or vaccination services hindering some from getting the jabs, while others may be misinformed about vaccines and the need to vaccinate. Some aren’t following up on their shots because they believe that measles no longer poses any risk. In situations when a disease like measles is eradicated, people start to think the disease isn’t around anymore.

Measles cases have tripled in a year, World Health Organization warns

The number of measles cases worldwide has tripled in the first seven months of the year compared to the same period last year, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Credit: Flickr

While it can be prevented through a two-dose vaccine, the highly contagious disease has seen a surge in line with a decline in vaccination rates. A total of 364,808 measles cases have so far been reported globally in 2019, up from 129,239 cases last year. Only one in 10 cases are usually reported, so the figure could be even higher

“There have been almost three times as many cases reported to date in 2019 as there were at this same time last year. This follows successive yearly increases since 2016, indicating a concerning and continuing upsurge in the overall measles burden worldwide,” the WHO said, in a statement.

Measles cases have soared around the world, with the African region seeing a 900% jump in cases year-on-year, while cases rose 230 percent in the western Pacific. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Madagascar and Ukraine registered the highest number of cases.

Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sudan, South Sudan, and Thailand have all seen major outbreaks of the disease. The United States has registered 1,164 cases so far this year, compared with 372 for all of 2018 and the highest number on record in a quarter-century.

Meanwhile, in Madagascar, which registered around 127,500 cases during the first half of this year alone, numbers have dropped considerably in recent months following an emergency national vaccination campaign, the WHO said.

Measles, an airborne infection, had actually been eliminated in many countries with advanced healthcare systems. But the so-called anti-vax movement – driven by fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella, to a risk of autism in children – has gained traction.

The WHO pointed out that the reasons for people not being vaccinated vary significantly between communities and countries, with a lack of access to quality healthcare or vaccination services hindering some from getting the jabs, while others are led astray by “misinformation about vaccines, or low awareness about the need to vaccinate”. In other words, antivaxxing is also taking its toll.

The measles vaccine is a “safe and highly effective vaccine”, the health agency said, urging “everyone to ensure their measles vaccinations are up to date”.

Sri Lanka has eliminated measles

While measles continues to be a problem in Europe, America and several parts of Asia, and Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that Sri Lanka had successfully eliminated measles from the island country. The country reported its last case of measles caused by an indigenous virus in May 2016. According to the WHO, an independent verification committee had comprehensively studied the country’s efforts towards eliminating the disease before declaring it as a ‘measles-free’ country.

The WHO South-East Asia Regional Director Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh said Sri Lanka’s success demonstrated its commitment, the determination of its health workforce and parents to protect children against measles.

“The risk of importations of measles virus from countries near and far will remain, especially from those that have significant population movement with Sri Lanka. Further strengthening the immunity of the vulnerable population, capacities to detect and readiness to respond to measles virus both at the national and sub-national levels, would be the key to the country’s continued measles-free status in the coming years,” said the WHO official.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons. It is characterized by a prodrome of fever and malaise, cough, coryza, and conjunctivitis — the three “C”s – a pathognomonic enanthema (Koplik spots) followed by a maculopapular rash. Common complications from measles include otitis media (ear infection), bronchopneumonia (pneumonia that causes inflammation in the alveoli), croup (or laryngotracheobronchitis, swelling inside the trachea), and diarrhea. Even in previously healthy children, measles can cause serious illness requiring hospitalization.

While global measles deaths have decreased by 84 percent worldwide in recent years — from 550,100 deaths in 2000 to 89,780 in 2016 — measles remains an important cause of death among young children globally, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles. The return of measles in other countries who have previously been declared “measles-free” reflects historical amnesia, declining faith in institutions, the spread of health misinformation, and a troubling lack of concern for the public good.

Sri Lanka is the fourth country in the WHO South-East Asia Region, after Bhutan, Maldives, and Timor-Leste, to eliminate measles and control rubella. Last year, Sri Lanka achieved rubella control, along with five other countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Timor-Leste. Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan, measles and rubella are targeted for elimination in five WHO Regions by 2020.

Measles outbreak.

After a 300% surge in global cases, WHO and UNICEF directors say we’re facing a ‘measles crisis’

The directors of the World Health Organization (WHO) and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are personally convinced — we’re facing a global measles crisis.

Measles outbreak.

Image credits Twitter Trends 2019 / Flickr.

Whether or not their respective agencies will issue an official warning is still under discussion. However, Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of WHO, issued a shared statement declaring their personal opinion that the world is beset by a measles crisis. The duo cite data showing a 300% overall increase in cases of this disease globally.

Less measles, please

“We are in the middle of a global measles crisis,” they together declared in a recent opinion piece for CNN.

By the time you finish reading this, we estimate that at least 40 people — most of them children — will be infected by this fast-moving, life-threatening disease.”

Measles is one of the most virulent diseases humanity has ever encountered. Before an effective vaccine was developed to guard us against the threat, it is estimated that virtually all children contracted this potentially-fatal disease by the time they turned 15.

So, you’ll be thrilled to know that measles is coming back in force around the world. In some areas, like Africa for example, measles cases have increased by a staggering 700% compared to 2018. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand, and Ukraine are currently in the throes of measles epidemics, they add.

Measles Trends.

Image via the CDC.

This data would certainly support the two’s opinion, especially when you factor in that the WHO estimates under 10% of all measles cases globally are reported. Even countries with high vaccination rates, like the US, Thailand, and Israel are seeing a surge in measles cases, likely due to localized gaps in vaccination coverage that impair herd immunity. With measles outbreaks in New York, Washington, California, and New Jersey, the United States has already counted more cases of this disease than all the 12 months of 2018 combined.

Fear of vaccines is at least part of the problem. Earlier this year, the WHO listed fear of vaccines as one of the most dire threats to public health in 2019. In areas like New York, whose recent measles outbreak has more to do with people refusing vaccines rather than a lack of access to them, vaccine fear is a leading cause of the disease’s spread.

“We welcome initial steps taken by digital companies such as Facebook, Amazon and YouTube to quarantine these vaccine myths,” Fore and Ghebreyesus write, “but it will take much more — not only from these online platforms but from governments, individuals and the health community — to make sure all children get their vaccines at the right time.”

It is estimated that measles vaccinations have saved some 20 million lives since the year 2000. The directors want to see vaccination efforts continue to bear fruit, but warn that unless we take a collective stand for science, health, and for vaccines, we will see many deaths caused by this disease in the near future.

An unofficial warning call has been issued. The only question now is: will we let it turn into an official, full-blown crisis?

Preliminary measles data for 2019 was published online by the World Health Organisation here.

Do not enter sign.

New York county declares state of emergency over measles and bans unvaccinated kids from public areas

New York’s Rockland County has declared a state of emergency this Tuesday. Officials also issued a directive barring unvaccinated children from all public spaces.

Do not enter sign.

Unvaccinated children will be banned from entering public spaces for the next 30 days.
Image credits Nicholas Jackson.

The outbreak began last October and has afflicted 153 people so far, mostly children. In a bid to prevent further infections, the county barred unvaccinated children from public spaces for 30 days, or until they receive their vaccines. Anti-vaccine parents tried to take the decision down in federal court but their case was dismissed.

State of emergency

“We must not allow this outbreak to continue indefinitely,” said County Executive Ed Day in a statement announcing the emergency declaration. “Every action we have taken since the beginning of this outbreak has been designed to maximize vaccinations and minimize exposures.”

“We are taking the next step in that endeavor today. We must do everything in our power to end this outbreak and protect the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and that of children too young to be vaccinated.”

Last September, a traveler arrived in Rockland from Israel, which is also struggling with outbreaks of the highly infectious virus. It has since spread through the local communities, particularly among the county’s insular Orthodox Jews, authorities note, and other groups with low average vaccination rates. Currently, Rockwell is one of six locations in America going through a measles outbreak.

Starting from midnight on Wednesday, March 27, anyone aged 18 or younger who has not been vaccinated against measles will not be allowed to access public spaces in Rockland for 30 days — or until they get the shot. In their directive, authorities define public spaces as areas where “more than 10 persons are intended to congregate for purposes such as civic, governmental, social, or religious functions, or for recreation or shopping, or for food or drink consumption, or awaiting transportation, or for daycare or educational purposes, or for medical treatment. A place of public assembly shall also include public transportation vehicles, including but not limited to, publicly or privately owned buses or trains.”

“We’re not punishing the people who are doing the right thing already and following the rules. We just want to encourage everyone to do the right thing so we can stop this outbreak,” said John Lyon, Rockland County Executive Ed Day’s director of strategic communications.
The step is “extremely unusual. [We] don’t believe it’s been done anywhere in the country before.”

So it’s pretty comprehensive. The prohibition was decided upon after county health officials announced six new exposure sites in Spring Valley and Monsey, including several supermarkets, public transport areas, and other social hotspots says USA Today. It also follows an order the county issued last December which barred unvaccinated children from schools in the 10952 and 10977 ZIP codes that were not at a minimum 95% vaccination rate. Taken together, the two are intended to stymie the spread of the measles virus by limiting potential exposure to those most at risk: the unvaccinated.

These measures didn’t go unchallenged. Earlier this month, ArsTechnica reports, anti-vaccination parents took the ban to court. It violated their religious freedom, they argued, as they had used religious exemptions to opt their children out of the standard vaccination programme. However, their case was denied, and the judge did not agree to issue a temporary injunction that would let the children return to school.

Personally, I think that was the right move on the part of the judge. Some of the parents, however, seem not to agree:

“As this outbreak has continued, our inspectors have begun to meet resistance from those they are trying to protect. They have been hung up on or told not to call again. They’ve been told ‘we’re not discussing this, do not come back,’ when visiting the homes of infected individuals as part of their investigations,” Day noted in his announcement.

“This type of response is unacceptable and irresponsible. It endangers the health and wellbeing of others and displays a shocking lack of responsibility and concern for others in our community.”

So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 314 cases of measles across 15 states. This figure stood at 372 cases total in 2018 and 120 in 2017.

Day said the timing of this ban was meant to coincide with family gatherings during the upcoming holidays of Passover and Easter. Noncompliance will incur penalties of six months in jail or a $500 fine, although law enforcement will not be deployed at any location seeking proof of vaccination, Day adds.


Unvaccinated French child brings measles back to Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been measles-free since 2014 — until now. A five-year-old French child who was on vacation with his family has been diagnosed with the disease, becoming the first case the country has had in almost five years.

A transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of a single virus particle, or “virion”, of measles virus. Image credits: Cynthia S. Goldsmith / CDC.

Since the introduction of vaccines, the number of measles cases worldwide has been dramatically reduced. But in recent years, measles has made a small but worrying resurgence in the developed world, riding the waves of non-scientific antivaxxing trends. Just a few weeks ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned about the dangers of preventable diseases making a comeback, calling “vaccine hesitancy” among the 10 most serious threats to human health.

“Some countries that were close to eliminating measles have seen a resurgence,” the WHO warned.

As if to illustrate that point, Costa Rican authorities have now reported that a family of French tourists, the parents 30 and 35 years of age and their 5-year-old child, have been placed in isolation at the Puntarenas Hospital, close to where the family was on vacation. The boy presented a measles-like rash, and blood tests have confirmed that he does have measles (Costa Rican doctors also found that other children at the boy’s kindergarten also had measles).

This didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to Costa Rican authorities, who were on alert for measles being reintroduced from other countries. Costa Rica didn’t have any native measles cases since 2006, but imported cases have been reported up until 2014.

“An increase in cases of measles was first reported last year in Europe and some areas of the United States, but recently, several countries in Latin America have also raised the alarm; for this reason, health authorities in Costa Rica are on alert and have began promoting a vaccination campaign that will take place in August,” a recent local news report stated.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It has very unpleasant symptoms and can lead to dangerous and potentially fatal complications. Vaccination is 97% effective against the measles virus, which has been instrumental in reducing measles cases around the world. In the developing world, access to vaccination is still a problem, the WHO says.

“Measles vaccination resulted in a 80% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2017 worldwide. Even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, in 2017, there were 110 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five,” the WHO reports. Before the introduction of measles vaccine, major epidemics occurred approximately every 2–3 years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.

Measles cases reported in the US, 1944-2007. Other countries where vaccines were widely implemented display similar trends. Credits: CDC.

Worryingly, even in countries which had all but eradicated measles, the disease is making a comeback as a result of reduced vaccination. Antivaxxing trends and complacency are stopping some parents from getting their children vaccinated. People opting not to have their kids vaccinated are posing great threats not only to themselves, but also to others.

In France, vaccinations against measles and 11 other diseases compulsory for children, as the current health ministry has made vaccination one of its top priorities. It’s not currently clear why the boy has not yet been vaccinated.

Thankfully, the boy is now in safe hands, and there are good odds that the quarantine will be successful. The family will be held for at least a week at the hospital, and authorities are trying to figure out who the boy was in contact with.

Costa Rica provides universal health care to all its citizens and is constantly ranked as the country with the best health care in Latin America, and one of the best in the world. A recent WHO report ranked Costa Rica just ahead of the US in terms of healthcare efficiency.

The CDC advises all travelers to take their vaccines before traveling to Costa Rica: “Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot,” the CDC page reads.

Venezuelans protest in 2017. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Worldwide measles cases jump by 31% fueled by Venezuelan outbreak

Decades of progress in reducing the spread of measles have been stymied by outbreaks in Europe and the Americas, particularly in Venezuela. According to a recent report authored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cases of the highly contagious disease reported worldwide has jumped by 31% between 2016 and 2017.

Venezuelans protest in 2017. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Venezuelans protest in 2017. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that is spread through the air by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. Symptoms of measles are rashes, high fever, coughing, a runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Although severe cases are rare, measles can cause swelling of the brain and even death. The disease is especially severe in infants. It’s, in fact, the leading cause of vaccine-preventable infant deaths.

Before the introduction of measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every 2–3 years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year. Thanks to modern healthcare and vaccination policies, the spread of the disease has been greatly reduced. For instance, between 2000 and 2017, reported measles cases dropped by 80% worldwide (from 853,479 to 173,330). During this time, researchers estimate that vaccination prevented 21.1 million deaths.

However, when vaccination coverage is poor, measles can easily resurface even in regions where it had previously been eradicated, largely due to international travelers carrying the virus. Just two years ago, the WHO stated that measles was no longer circulating in the Americas. Today, endemic measles is back on the American continents, largely due to a terrible outbreak in Venezuela: the country where inflation reached 1,000,000% and whose public system has gone into disarray could no longer afford to properly organize vaccination campaigns. Today, there are 3,545 confirmed cases of measles in Venezuela since 2016, which have resulted in 62 deaths.

From there, Venezuelan refugees have spread the disease to other parts of the continent – especially in Brazil.

Estimated annual number of measles deaths with and without vaccination programs — worldwide, 2000–2017. Credit: CDC.

Estimated annual number of measles deaths with and without vaccination programs — worldwide, 2000–2017. Credit: CDC.

Measles outbreaks have also appeared elsewhere, including Europe and some parts of the United States. This time, however, the stead of the disease was not triggered by civil upheaval and economic collapse, but rather by the refusal of some parents to vaccinate their children. From 2016 to 2017, the number of cases of measles in Europe rose by 458%, to 24,356.

According to the latest entry in thMorbidity and Mortality Weekly Reportthere were 173,300 cases of measles reported worldwide in 2017, compared to only 132,328 in 2016. That’s still a much better situation than the world was facing only two decades ago. However, it’s disappointing to see how so much hard-earned progress is dismantled by poor government policy on one hand and pure ignorance in wealthy countries on the other hand. To be fair, the authors also note that many of the newly added cases are due to some countries improving their reporting.

This study shows just how vulnerable populations can be, even in places where measles had been previously all but eradicated.

Anti-vaxx fears fuel measles outbreak in Europe — with 37 fatalities already

Measles is killing both children and adults in Europe, in an outbreak largely fueled by anti-vaccination fears.

A worrying trend

Between 1855 and 2005, measles has been estimated to have killed about 200 million people worldwide, being responsible for some of the worst outbreaks in modern history. The first measles vaccine was developed in 1963, and has since been significantly improved. As a result, fatalities have decreased tremendously in recent years — up until recently.

In the past few years, an anti-scientific movement has slowly risen up: antivaxxing. Emerging as a fringe movement and initially discarded and ignored — after all, why would anyone reject a scientific advancement that saves lives — antivaxxing has grown to the point where it’s having an important impact: scaring people away from vaccines, and making everyone more vulnerable to the threat of diseases like measles.

[Also Read: The Pseudoscience of Antivaxxing]

More and more people are avoiding the MMR vaccine, against measles, mumps and rubella, and, as a result, more and more people are starting to contract the disease. Two years ago, in 2016, there were 5,273 measles cases. In 2017, it grew to 23,927, and this year, in the first six months alone, there were over 41,000 cases — culminating in 37 fatalities.

Populists step in

As it happens, the measles virus got an unexpected ally: populist politicians, generally from the far right side of the spectrum. Donald Trump has placed himself in the antivaxxer camp, telling an alleged story about a two-year-old who “got” autism a week after she had the MMR — of course, without presenting any facts to support this idea. In France, Marine Le Pen has encouraged people to refuse vaccines, and it should surprise no one that her positions often fall in the far right. Italy’s attempt to boost vaccination hit a brick wall when the new populist government decided to relax legislation.

But vaccine refusal doesn’t blanket any party or political affiliation. Instead, the more common characteristic seems to be a tendency towards conspiracy theories — and especially, a dislike of big pharma companies. Fueled by hate and fear, amplified by social media bots and supported by populist politicians, antivaxxers have achieved their goals: they’ve spread the seeds of doubt, and the seeds have taken root — and that root is this major outbreak.

What we can do

As The Guardian’s Sarah Boseley explains, you don’t read about vaccines causing autism in the newspapers anymore — it’s simply been shown to be false, time and time again. But in the modern era of social media, it doesn’t matter that much. People (and bots) can simply spread fear and doubt, even if it completely disregards the truth.

What is important here is that we’re all in this together. No one wants to have another measles outbreak, no one wants their loved ones to be at risk. We can’t let the diseases win, and we have the best tools to fight them. So let’s do it together, shall we?


In Romania, distrust of vaccines claims children’s lives

Pseudoscience had an unfortunate victory in an important battle in the European country of Romania, where 39 children lost their lives following a measles outbreak. Their parents refused to vaccinate them, misled by scare stories against vaccination.

“People are mistrustful because they read all sorts of things on the internet,” said Dr. Silvana Dan from the southern regional Prahova Public Health Authority, citing long-refuted but still prevalent rumors that vaccination causes autism.

Measles, once again killing people in the 21st century

It’s a story you don’t expect to hear, and in all truth, it’s one that we shouldn’t be telling in the 21st century. If we have a functional vaccine and the resources to carry out vaccination, having a lethal measles epidemic is simply unacceptable.

Romania is an outlier in Europe. Since late 2016, there have been just over 20,000 cases in Europe, and out of them, 12,000 have been in Romania. Germany had only 919 cases, France had 77, and the UK had 62.  Out of the 49 fatalities reported in Europe, 46 have been in Romania, and 39 of them were children.

The same story is heard over and over again: parents are misled by aggressive media campaigns against vaccination and they simply refuse to vaccinate their children. An 11-month-old died in March after her parents refused to vaccinate her. In the village of Valea Seaca, another baby girl just 10 months old died of measles in February.

“Her parents refused, in writing, to have their children vaccinated after seeing reports on television that vaccines kill,” local mayor Ioan Pravat told AFP.

The problem is further exacerbated in the disadvantaged Roma communities, who rarely ask their family doctor for information.

But there is also room for progress. Health workers have tried a new approach, literally going door to door and talking to the people in the communities — and there are signs it’s working.

“I don’t want to lie to you. At the beginning I, too, was afraid because I had heard that there could be problems, like causing paralysis,” said Anisoara Iorga. “But then I did get my children vaccinated and they had no problems at all.”

The governing party, PSD (Social-Democrat Party) has also pledged to improve vaccination rates by making 10 child vaccines compulsory. However, debates have progressed slowly, and several amendments by anti-vaccine groups have managed to sneak in. Surprisingly, the anti-vaccination movement is supported by a small minority in the medical community, though most doctors in Romania are, understandably, outraged.

“We have to defend the scientific work (underlying vaccines) while information which has no such basis is taken as the truth,” said Dr. Alexandru Rafila, head of Romania’s microbiology society.

Critics have also accused the governing party of not doing enough to ensure that vulnerable communities have access to proper doses. To make matters even worse, the anti-vaccine narrative is also being pushed by a few local celebrities, spearheaded by former TV presenter Olivia Steer, who admitted that she has vaccinated her own children. Steer is widely known for propagating conspiracy theories and disproven, pseudoscientific claims, but she is still followed by many. Just yesterday (April 18) she received an award for promoting women’s health — although the prize was withdrawn the very next day following public and sponsor outrage.

A bigger lesson

Ultimately, Romania is a cautionary tale for the entire world. Vaccines have largely been a victim of their own success — measles cases plunged from 550,100 in 2000, to just under 90,000 in 2016. Many people see the decline of such cases as a natural cause, disregarding the fact that this very drop was only possible due to vaccines. It also shows just how much damage a single, fraudulent, and long disproven study can do.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield authored a widely read research paper claiming that there was a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the emergence of autism and bowel disease. Researchers from all around the world were unable to reproduce his results, and a 2004 investigation identified undisclosed financial conflicts of interest on Wakefield’s part. Most of his co-authors withdrew support from the paper after realizing what had happened. Then, the British General Medical council conducted an inquiry and found not only that Wakefield’s results were dishonest and baseless but that he had also subjected children to cruel, unnecessary medical procedures. The study was retracted, and the editor of the Lancet (where the study had been published) wrote that the paper was “utterly false” and that the journal had been “deceived”. Wakefield was subsequently removed from the UK medical register and was banned from practicing medicine due to the intentional falsification of scientific studies.

Wakefield was planning to launch a venture profiting from his fraudulent studies, and still travels the world giving anti-vaccine speeches. In Romania, as well as several other countries (albeit to a lesser extent), children are dying because parents won’t vaccinate their kids.

The World Health Organization recommends a vaccination rate of 95 percent for effective disease control. This also helps with ensuring the so-called herd immunity for the population. In a population where a large number of individuals are immune, the chain of infection is likely to be disrupted, which essentially ensures that no major epidemic sets in. This is particularly important for children one-year-old or younger who haven’t had the chance to be vaccinated yet. However, vaccination rates in Romania are at 87 percent for the first inoculation and only 75 percent for the second, according to the latest official figures from 2016 (measles vaccination requires two doses for optimum protection).  This compromises herd immunity and facilitated the onset of the epidemic.

The United States slides towards measles epidemics (again) because people don’t vaccinate

Non-medical vaccination exemptions and wide misinformation on their efficiency are pulling America back into endemic measles outbreaks, a paper reports.

Back of female with measles.

Back of female with measles.
Image credits Wellcome Trust.

The US took great pains (in the form of strict, nationwide vaccination campaigns) to eliminate measles back in 2000. Luckily, these efforts proved fruitful. Outbreaks did spring up here and there, mostly from people who travel to and from other countries, but they numbered a few dozens, upwards to a few hundred cases yearly. Which is a really small number. Overall, however, the measles virus was considered to no longer be endemic (present in the country) since the turn of the millennia.

But rejoice not! The US is slowly inching back to pre-2000 days, when the measles virus roamed free and deadly, researchers from the Stanford and Baylor College of Medicine warn. At the heart of the issue are non-medical vaccine exemptions and non-medical delays, coupled with wide public misinformation about vaccines.

A high toll

The two researchers, Nathan Lo, Bs. and Dr. Peter Hotez, MD., PhD., report that a 5% decrease in measles-mumps-and-rubella (MMR) vaccination rates among kids aged 2-11 would triple measles cases in the age group and end up draining the public health system some $2.1 million in additional costs. But wait, it gets even better/worse — ages 2-11 make up only about a third of measles cases in current outbreaks, but it was the only age interval the researchers had sufficient data to work with. They fully expect those numbers to become much higher once enough data to model “social mixing and immunization status of adults, teens, and infants under two” becomes available.

“The results of our study find substantial public health and economic consequences with even minor reductions in MMR coverage due to vaccine hesitancy and directly confront the notion that measles is no longer a threat in the United States,” they write.

The duo says they conducted this study out of concern for growing vaccine hesitancy and use of non-medical exemptions — both largely driven by shoddy data or outright lies pertaining to the safety of vaccines, and the downplaying of just how dangerous these diseases can be.

And measles is up there on the dangerous scale. The virus is ridiculously infectious, and can keep on floating in the air hours after a carrier coughed or sneezed. Those infected develop high fevers, skin rashes, inflamed eyes, and flu-like coughs and runny nose. About 30% of cases also come with highly desirable complications such as pneumonia, brain swelling, even blindness. While this does make it really simple to spot someone sick so you can stay away, carriers can spread the virus days before symptoms pop up.

Get your kid vaccinated!

So if the Eyeball Mk.1 we all come pre-equipped with can’t spot the danger, what do we do to stay safe? Well, we immunize the herd. So to speak. Basically, the idea behind herd immunity is to make such a large proportion of the population (around 90 to 95% of everybody) immune to the virus that it simply won’t be able to spread around effectively. There aren’t enough viable carriers to take spread it around.

It’s an all for one and one-starts-an-epidemic scenario. If immunity levels drop below that percentage, a single infected individual has a much higher chance of starting an outbreak — which, in turn, will have a much easier time infecting huge numbers of people. The bad news is that in many areas of the US, immunity levels are just shy of falling below that range, and vaccination rates still keep going down. Some 18 states allow parents to forego vaccination on the ground of personal beliefs, and almost all (except Mississippi and West Virginia) allow for religious and/or philosophical exceptions, according to the NCLS.

So, to get a feel for what these exceptions will do in the long run, the duo mathematically modeled the way measles spreads based on the virus’ known behavior, data on current vaccination rates from the CDC, and the “social mixing patterns” of kids aged 2-11. To get a rough estimate of the costs these outbreaks will take on the health system, they factored in stuff like medical staff wages, the cost of laboratory analyses, and money spent on outbreak surveillance. Each measles case, they estimate, costs about $20,000.

They then checked and calibrated their model based on data from past measles outbreaks from the US and UK. After they made sure their model works, they pushed up the vaccine exemption rate from 1% to 8% to see what would happen. Unsurprisingly, larger the exemption rates led to more cases and bigger outbreaks. Eliminating the exemptions however would take MMR coverage in the US to 95%, a very comfy percentage when talking about herd immunity.

In other words, when you chose not to vaccinate your kid, you’re putting both his health and that of others at risk. Stop believing what stupid stuff people say, believe, or write on shady websites over what your physician spent years learning in med school.

And most importantly, vaccinate your kids!

JAMA Pediatrics, 2017. DOI:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1695 (About DOIs).

The paper “Public Health and Economic Consequences of Vaccine Hesitancy for Measles in the United States” has been published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

State of Maine confirms its first measles case in 20 years

As the anti-vaccination movement gains ground, its effects are becoming apparent.

Science — it works. Image via CDC.

Authorities have confirmed the first measles case in Maine since 1997. The Maine Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory confirmed the case and are now trying to figure out who else might have been exposed to the disease. The state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that the infected person comes from Franklin County. Dr. Siiri Bennett, the state epidemiologist, told Bangor Daily News that the individual contracted the disease while traveling abroad. While measles has almost been eradicated in the continental US, thanks to wide-scale vaccination, it still remains prevalent in many parts of the world. If vaccination rates go down, the population will become vulnerable and the disease can spread again.

Two doses of the vaccine will fend off the disease in 97 percent of all cases. They’re about as effective in combating measels as a condom are for STDS, and with just as many side effects. A recent study from the World Health Organization found that worldwide, the measles vaccine saved over 20,000,000 lives since 2000 alone.

“Making measles history is not mission impossible,” said Robin Nandy, UNICEF Immunization Chief, at the time. “We have the tools and the knowledge to do it; what we lack is the political will to reach every single child, no matter how far. Without this commitment, children will continue to die from a disease that is easy and cheap to prevent.”

Measles is more than just an annoying rash — aside from the usual high fever, patients of all ages are subject to complications which include pneumonia and brain swelling. So far this year, 108 people have been diagnosed with measles in the US. The states of California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington have all reported cases, the vast majority representing people which haven’t been vaccinated. However, people who don’t vaccinate also put others at risk.

When a sufficient part of the population is vaccinated and immunized, something called herd immunity is achieved. Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community. If even 5% of people lose their immunization, herd immunity is lost and the entire population is at risk.

A few years ago, in 2014, measles outbreaks were unusually high, with one outbreak infecting 383 people, occurring primarily among unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio.

Read Roald Dahl’s powerful letter to parents about vaccination from 1988

People love Roald Dahl’s creations (such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda) for their creativity and sense of humor, but Dahl had his own share of tragedy. He lost his daughter to measles before there was an available vaccine. Twenty-six years later, he wrote this plea to parents, urging them to vaccinate their children. This is a powerful letter which we should all learn from.

“Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year,” he writes in the letter. “Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.


Vaccination is as important an issue as it was then. Measles is extremely infectious, killing over 150,000 people every year. Dahl’s penned letter was published in a pamphlet called Sandwell Health Authority, and you can read it here (thanks to io9):

Measles: A Dangerous Illness

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

“I feel all sleepy,” she said.

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.

It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.

Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.


Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.

So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?

They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.

So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.

The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.

Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The second was ‘The BFG’, dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.



measles virus

First person to die of the measles in a dozens years – why did it happen?

In 2000, the CDC declared measles as eradicated in the US, meaning there was no more endemic transmission. That doesn’t mean though, that it can’t creep out from time to time, especially in communities where heard immunity is poor because of low rates of vaccination. This is attested by a woman who unfortunately died of the virus, making it a first in twelve years. The woman was taking medications that suppressed her immune system due to other conditions, and this made it very difficult for her body to fight another infection.

measles virus

Measles virus. Source: CDC

The ruling cause of death was pneumonia, but autopsy revealed the pneumonia was due to contracting measles. Typically, the measles virus is very easily beaten with effective medication, but the women showed no classic signs like itching. The measles wasn’t exactly on top of the doctors’ list, considering it’s been endemically eradicated, so they missed it.  She caught the virus while being treated in a medical facility. Another person came in with measles before the rash had appeared but while still contagious. It was effectively too late to do anything, unfortunately. Everybody was surprised when the autopsy showed measles.

“This should have been a preventable death, and I think her death is a tragedy,” said Dr. Mark Schleiss, professor of pediatrics and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Minnesota. “Measles is a disease we know we can control with effective immunizations. For this to happen is really unfortunate and unnecessary.”

For Schleiss, the woman’s death isn’t that surprising given the recent anti-vaccine waves that splashed Washington state.

“We know that Washington state is a state with one of the highest percentages of religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccines in the country,” he said. “It seems a reasonable conclusion that this death occurred because of inadequate immunization levels, but more epidemiological investigation will have to take place to find out.”

This is the 11th in Washington and the sixth in Clallam County this year. According to Forbes, there have been other deaths attributed to measles in the past 12 years, but measles as a cause of death hasn’t been confirmed in these instances.

Measles, also called rubeola, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that’s caused by a virus. It causes a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough, and runny nose. Today in the United States measles cases are very rare, but 20 million cases happen worldwide every year.

In 1912 about 6,000 measles-related deaths were reported. In 1954, John F. Enders and Dr. Thomas C. Peebles collected blood samples from several ill students during a measles outbreak in Boston, Massachusetts. They wanted to isolate the measles virus in the student’s blood and create a measles vaccine. In 1963, the first measles vaccine was introduced. Nowadays, infants between 12 to 15 months old  have to take the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. A second dose is required when the children are four and six years old.

According to National Geographic, the woman deceased from measles was vaccinated.

“The whole point of widespread immunization is knowing that there will be a subset of people who may lose immunity by becoming immune-compromised or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Schleiss said. “That’s why we need robust, high levels of immunization – to protect the rights and freedom of individuals who cannot be vaccinated.”


Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Anti-vaxxer bet $100,000 that scientists couldn’t prove measles exists. German court now orders man to pay up

Four years ago, a vocal anti vaccine activist and a biologist by training challenged not only established medical science, but common sense. The man in question, Stefan Lanka, offered $100,000 to anyone who could prove the measles virus exists. Yes, the virus that used to infect millions of children and young adults hilariously doesn’t exist in Lanka’s view. David Barden, a German doctor, took it upon himself to battle the windmills. He mailed Lanka the most up-to-date and comprehensive research on measles. Unsurprisingly, Lanka dismissed them, but the German court thought otherwise. To them, the existence of measles is obvious and ordered the man to pay up the $106,000 he had promised.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Mr. Lanka didn’t take the verdict lightly and said he would appeal. As he left the courthouse, Lanka said:

“It is a psychosomatic illness,” he told regional paper Suedkurier. “People become ill after traumatic separations.”

Western medicine first discovered that measles is caused by an infectious agent in the blood of patients in 1757. In the decade before 1963 when a vaccine became available, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. Many of you most likely had measles (remember?), but you might not be aware that it can easily lead to complications that can be fatal. It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year. Also each year an estimated 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain) from measles.

Widespread vaccination almost obliterated the disease. Most recently, a wave of vaccine skepticism has gain traction, most notably in the US and Germany. The concern lies in the false belief that vaccines cause autism. This was long-ago proven wrong and actually exposed as an elaborate fraud paid for by a group that wanted to sue vaccine manufacturers. Still, thousands of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children now. Moreover the anti-vaccine families tend to cluster inside communities which greatly increases the chance of infection. Last year, when a record number of California parents claimed personal belief exemptions, health officials reported the most measles cases seen here since 1995 and the most whooping cough cases since 1947.

Lanka not only thinks vaccines cause harm; he’s actually dismissing viruses like measles, and even HIV, are real!

“Because we know that the ‘measles virus’ doesn’t exist, and according to biology and medical science can’t exist, and because we know the real cause of measles, we want the reward to get people to enlighten themselves, for the enlightened to help the less enlightened and for the enlightened to influence those in power,” wrote in his challenge. You can find it in German form here.

Being an influential person, Lanka’s ignorance was disseminated. Right now, Berlin is currently facing its worst measles outbreak in decades. Some 782 cases were reported since last October, and in February an 18-month-old baby died because the parents wouldn’t accept the vaccine. The German government is currently considering making vaccines mandatory; something which I personally object to. It’s a serious debate, since it’s quite true and proven that refusing vaccines is not only poor for your health, but for public health as well. Then again, people should have the last word when it comes to needles and who knows what poking their body. Nevertheless, Lanka’s case might force others to measure their words more wisely. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, but that doesn’t mean we should listen to it or that it’s true, for that matter.