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So. We have to talk about measles in 2017. Why, you may ask, are kids getting measles? More and more people neglect vaccinating their children, and dangerous diseases like measles make a comeback.

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I can't believe we have to do this in 2017, but measles are back in the headlines. So, let's talk about the disease ...again. This is Healthcare Triage News.


Measles is a bad disease. Almost none of you watching this have ever seen a case, but this isn't some minor illness we're overreacting about. Besides the fever, rash, and crappy feeling you get in general, about 40% of the infected (mostly children less than five and adults older than 20) have complications. Not minor complications; we're talking pneumonia and, less often, blindness, severe diarrhea, infections, encephalitis, hearing loss, mental retardation, even death. The CDC estimates that for every 1,000 kids who get measles, 20 will get pneumonia, one will get encephalitis, and up to 2 will die.

As Julia Belluz wrote over at Vox, before the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, more than 4 million people got measles in the United States, leading to 48,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths each year. 

Measles is also unbelievably infectious. We've covered this before, but the infectivity of measles is way worse than many scary viruses the news covers obsessively. Ebola is relatively hard to catch as long as you don't make contact with infected individuals or their fluids; same for HIV. But measles, it travels in the air and hovers there, even after an infected person left the room.

I bring all of this up because Minnesota is having its largest outbreak of measles in decades. There were 48 cases reported as of Tuesday. Why? The state health department says that people aren't getting vaccinated because of anti-vaccine propaganda.

By 2000, measles had been pretty much wiped out in the United States. Once in awhile, a case would pop up because of travel or such, but outbreaks didn't happen too often; until people started avoiding the vaccine.

In 2014, a group of Amish people in Ohio, who didn't get the vaccine, were the center of a big outbreak. In 2015, Disneyland was the source of another outbreak, again linked to people who didn't get the vaccine. And now, in Minnesota, the outbreak is centering around a group of Minnesota-born children of Somali descent. Why? They're not getting the vaccine.

About 10 years ago, there were concerns that the rate of autism was increasing in the community. Research showed that that really wasn't true. The rate of diagnosis wasn't different than in neighboring white communities, but fear had already set in.

Because of unfounded concerns that the measles vaccine was causing autism, the rate of vaccination of this community dropped from 92% to 42% over a decade. Non-Somali children rates went up from 88% to 89% over the same period. Of the 46 kids who've been infected, 41 are Somali-American. Almost half of them weren't vaccinated. 

Kids who aren't vaccinated are at risk, but outbreaks put everyone at risk, especially those who can't get immunized like babies and the immunocompromised. Measles is a virus, people. We can't treat it. That's why we prevent it. Vaccinate.


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