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Measles making a comeback?
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If you aren’t a regular fan of television or radio news and don’t carefully read newspapers, you may be unaware of measles outbreaks that have occurred in the United States and other nations believed to be immunized against that disease. Fifteen states, including Georgia, are involved in the largest U.S. outbreak in more than ten years with at least 127 people known to be sick with measles.

An estimated 22 cases in Arizona and additional cases in San Diego have been linked to one traveler from Switzerland and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. outbreak has been traced to travelers who became sick overseas, returned to the United States and infected others. Similar outbreaks are also occurring throughout Europe, Japan, Israel and Australia, as well as third-world countries which do not have immunization programs for their children.

Measles remains a leading cause of death among children in poor countries with 250,000 children dying from this disease every year. About one in every five measles sufferers experiences more severe illness, which can include diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis, severe neurological disorders and even death. Measles in adults is more dangerous as it is usually accompanied with pneumonia and other complications

Caused by a virus that normally grows in cells that line the back of the throat and the lungs, measles is spread by droplets of nasal and throat secretions by infected persons and sometimes by airborne pathogens. It is a highly contagious disease with symptoms that include:

- Coughing

- Runny nose

- High Fever

- Rash (which usually starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body)

Last month British health officials said measles had become an epidemic in that country for the first time since the mid-1990s due to parents not getting their children vaccinated. The World Health Organization estimated more than 20 million individuals are affected each year by measles worldwide.

"With the whole debate about vaccines - and now parents due to their personal beliefs not vaccinating their children - what we are seeing now is that we are going to have these epidemic outbreaks throughout the country," said Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing editor of health at "If this continues, we will see outbreaks throughout the entire developed world - something we have never seen before," he added.

According to CDC, the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) is the safest protection you can give your child against this virus. The agency recommends that children should be given their first dose of the MMR vaccine around 12 to 15 months of age. The second dose is recommended before the start of kindergarten, between the ages of 4 to 6.

The National Institutes of Health also recommends that all adults 18 years or older born after 1956 should receive an MMR vaccine if they are uncertain of their immunization status or if they have only had one shot prior to entering school. Adults born before 1957 can be considered immune to measles but adults born during or after 1957 should receive more than one dose of MMR unless they have a medical contraindication, documentation of more than one dose, history of measles based on health-care provider diagnosis, or laboratory evidence of immunity.

A second dose of MMR is recommended for adults who 1) have been recently exposed to measles or are in an outbreak setting; 2) have been previously vaccinated with killed measles vaccine; 3) have been vaccinated with an unknown type of measles vaccine during 1963-1967; 4) are students in postsecondary educational institutions; 5) work in a health-care facility; or 6) plan to travel internationally.

The MWR vaccine has received bad press long after the information was proven to be completely false. In 1998, a paper published in the British-based The Lancet suggested a possible link between the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and developmental disorders such as autism. The research has since been debunked and most of the paper’s authors subsequently

signed a retraction of their conclusions, but vaccination rates dipped as a result and the story continues to hang around even though the claim has been medically disproven on multiple occasions.

Unlike claims stated in The Lancet, physicians believe that autism, which affects language development and behavior, is most likely a genetic disorder. It is believed that triggers in the environment may be responsible for causing autism in children with a genetic predisposition to the condition, but this trigger most likely occurs before a child is born.

Some parents suspect that thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative in certain vaccines, triggers autism sometime after the age of 1 but MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines do not contain thimerosal. Even without a scientific link, thimerosal has been removed or reduced to trace amounts for all immunizations given to children by age 6 or younger. Since then, the prevalence of autism among children has actually gone up.

The correlation between the age children are vaccinated (between 1 and 3) and the age of onset for autism (between 12 and 24 months) leads parents to link the two. But correlation does not imply causation, and a child not immunized faces increased health risks.

"This is a public health concern! These viruses can cause severe delays in development, including regression in language and cognitive and motor function. While there is no proof that vaccines can cause autism, there is proof that not giving vaccines can cause devastating brain diseases. The risks far outweigh the benefits," expounds Dr. Rolanda Maxim, a developmental pediatrician and the medical director of the Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders, in the Knights of Columbus Developmental Center at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.


Linda Ratcliffe works with the Coastal Health District.

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