In 1796, Edward Jenner inoculated a healthy 8-year-old volunteer with cowpox material to protect that individual from smallpox. Ever since that monumental event, vaccination has been the "gold standard" in our fight against many dreaded diseases.
However, currently in the United States there has developed an anti-vaccination movement that has been fueled by religious beliefs as well as a small and flawed 1998 study that linked vaccination with autism. The study has been widely and comprehensively debunked, but social media, rumors, and "anti-vax" movements have kept the issue alive. This has led to a large surge in measles cases that has made 2019 the worst recorded year for measles in the U.S. since 1994.
Measles is an extremely dangerous disease, especially in the very young and very old in our population. Measles is often complicated by middle ear infections or pneumonia caused by the virus itself or by a secondary bacterial infection. Encephalitis strikes about one in 1,000 victims, and survivors are often left with permanent brain damage. As many as one in 3,000 measles cases prove fatal, mostly in infants.
Worldwide, measles strikes approximately 30 million people a year and kills nearly 1 million individuals. It is the leading cause of deaths in a vaccine-preventable disease.
In the U.S., measles was once nearly vanquished by childhood vaccinations, but more cases are being seen as more American families refuse to let their children get the shots. In today's world of rapid and far reaching travel, it is getting more common for someone to go to an area where a vaccine preventable disease is lurking, become infected, and then bring it back home where other unvaccinated people can be exposed.
This is what has happened with the measles virus, since measles cases have quadrupled globally in 2018-19, leaving pockets of possible contamination for visitors. For example, the worst outbreak has been reported in Madagascar where tens of thousands of people have been sickened and more than 800 have died during a 7-month period in 2018-19.
Larrie Stone is a retired Dana College science professor.