Unvaccinated children behind worrying measles increase

As another new study fails to find any connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, there has been a series of articles warning that the decision not to vaccinate children, for whatever reason, is allowing the disease to spread in the U.S.

Scientific American reports that the number of measles cases in the U.S. for 2008 is more than double that of the annual rate for the previous six years. From January to July 2008, there were 131 cases of measles versus an average of 63 cases per year over the previous six years – all of which were infections caught abroad.  The most recent cases in the States, however, were driven by local transmission among unvaccinated people, mostly children. As WebMD reports:

In Washington, an unvaccinated child likely caught measles at a church conference attended by 3,000 junior high school students, some from foreign nations. That child infected seven other children in her household; they spread measles to 11 other people. Of the 19 cases, 16 were school-age children. Eleven of these kids were homeschooled; none was vaccinated because of their parents’ beliefs.

In Illinois, a teenager who recently returned from Italy — where there are ongoing measles outbreaks — seems to have infected four unvaccinated girls ages 10 to 14. Eventually, 30 people came down with measles. All but one of the cases were children or teens aged 8 months to 17 years. Cases included 25 homeschooled children whose parents held anti-vaccination beliefs.

Vaccination against measles is crucial because the disease is highly contagious; Jane Seward, MB, MPH, deputy director of the CDC’s viral disease division, points out that in a room of 100 unvaccinated people, 90 to 95 could catch the disease from one infected person coughing. Seward tells Scientific American’s blog that “people have forgotten what measles looks like and have forgotten how infectious it is…

Back in the early part of the century, it killed thousands of people a year. The biggest year was 10,000. Over the years, those deaths declined but in the 1960s, right before the vaccine was developed, it killed 400 to 500 children every year out of 500,000 reported cases at that time. Three to four million cases actually occurred, because not all cases get reported.

Of those 500,000 reported cases, there were 4,000 cases of encephalitis a year. That’s brain infection and can have some serious sequellae, like retardation and things like that. Measles can also cause pneumonia…

Some parents think that American medical care is such that it can treat any complication on measles. They’re not right on that. Medical care is the same as the 1960s in terms of encephalitis. There’s very little that can be done to alter that outcome. And there is no treatment for measles as such. There are no antivirals to use.

The latest study by researchers at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health on the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism compared children with both autism and gastro intestinal (GI) problems  and children with just GI problems. Cells were biopsied to see if they contained genetic sequences of the measles virus. The objective was to

determine whether children with GI disturbances and autism are more likely than children with GI disturbances alone to have MV RNA and/or inflammation in bowel tissues and if autism and/or GI episode onset relate temporally to receipt of MMR.

The results provided strong evidence that there was no connection between the vaccine and autism.

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7 Responses to Unvaccinated children behind worrying measles increase

  1. Great post.
    Don’t forget about pregnant women who haven’t been vaccinated and are exposed to measles. I hope that was not the case in Illinois. The disease can cause birth defects and miscarriages.

  2. […] Canadian communities (see Respectful Insolence) is starting to show what the totally unfounded (see The Stats Blog)  fear surrounding the MMR and other children’s vaccines has the propensity to […]

  3. John Sawyer says:

    Isn’t it unproductive to test for the presence of measles RNA long after the inflammation-caused damage to the brain may have already been done? The brain-damaging inflammation takes place soon after the child has been vaccinated–NOT long afterwards, or gradually. These people are trying to confuse us by claiming if there’s a link between vaccination and autism, the damage can only gradually be caused by live measles virus continuing to replicate long after the vaccination, which is not how this problem works. Why try to link inflammation in bowel tissue, months or even a full year after the vaccination, to a brief episode of brain inflammation shortly after the vaccination? The timeframe gives the measles virus in the vaccination plenty of time to exit the child’s system normally, and hence become undetectable after it’s done the damage to the brain. The science here is completely unclear, or very poorly explained.

    Brain inflammation, or/and other damage caused by vaccination, has been reported a number of times. Even anecdotal evidence offered by parents is disturbing–some kids who are perfectly healthy prior to a vaccination, “go crazy”, or go nearly comatose, or just stop speaking, in the hours after the vaccination. Most kids come out of this seemingly OK, but some don’t, and even of those that do, who knows how much better they could have done without the inflammation episode?

    Sure, few kids suffer from brain inflammation as a result of vaccination, and more kids are saved by indiscriminate vaccination than would be saved by no kids being vaccinated, since that would lead to massive outbreaks of disease. But do the few kids who might be victims of brain inflammation caused by vaccination, have to be counted as inevitable victims–sacrifices, in effect? Why not work out some method of vaccination that’s much less likely to cause brain inflammation? Possibly vaccinating kids with one vaccine at a time, instead of the combo MMR vaccine–vaccinate the kids with the measles vaccine one day, then with the mumps vaccine a couple weeks later (or whatever is best), then other vaccines spaced at proper intervals? Why try to save on trips to the hospital by using combo vaccines, if it might mean putting the kid’s health at stake?

    • KM Grant says:

      Really? I am of the impression that only attenuated ( non-live) versions of the vaccine are given at this point in time in the US. Am i misinformed?

  4. John Sawyer says:

    Another possible approach to the brain inflammation problem, might be to keep all vaccinated kids under observation for a while after the shot, and at the first signs of inflammation, give them something to keep it under control. This would require a lot more work on the part of the people doing the vaccinating, but we’re talking about kids’ minds here.

  5. Kerrie Wendt says:

    If vaccinations work…then how can an unvaccinated child possibly be a health risk to a vaccinated one?

    • The post doesn’t say vaccinated children are at risk from unvaccinated children. Measles is a highly infectious disease: roughly one case will infect 16 others among those who are not vaccinated. Hence the need for very high vaccination rates to confer herd immunity and prevent outbreaks.

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