There’s finally some good news for the many Americans who’ve come down with the measles in the last several weeks: The biggest wave in decades has peaked. But it’s also creating its own growing list of concerns.
That’s because the epidemic is still going on, and it’s still spreading. Just yesterday, several families chose to sue the state of Washington after a measles vaccination caused measles cases to surge.
And it’s happening. California’s Health and Human Services Agency reports 1,300 cases and 25 deaths since the outbreak began in December.
And that’s just the reporting. The state health department said Friday that at least 425 reported cases and nine deaths have already taken place in the state. But according to researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, the number of cases is actually more than a million, with 1.1 million cases reported in the United States overall.
And it’s a different story in each state.
Nevada, the center of the California outbreak, has 41 reported cases so far, making it the most affected state so far. New Jersey is third, with more than a dozen cases. But Georgia has the most reported cases in the southeastern United States, with more than 50 reported cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, close to half of respondents say they’re “very worried” about getting the measles. But that concern is a nuanced one. While a majority of those who say they’re very worried say there’s been no reason to vaccinate for a long time, some see a link between vaccines and autism – a claim that remains controversial to this day.
At the same time, 23 percent of those surveyed said they believe vaccines cause autism, which is more than double what it was in 2001.
Is it really all in your head?
The increase in parents opting out of vaccinating has created another widespread concern that’s been shared by many health care providers: Fear that the effect of the current measles outbreak will result in a spike in other vaccine hesitancy. So if parents opt out of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, those kids are now not up to date on the multiple diphtheria shots that come with the series. And if more kids go without, the chance of more kids falling ill rises.
“It’s hard for me to tell how many in every state would necessarily go this route, but just imagine this: you’re at a school that didn’t offer any of the vaccines, then, two weeks later you come to school and there’s more measles cases,” said Joseph Hamell, a professor at the University of Southern California who’s been studying the measles for over 40 years. “That risk might be out there.”
That’s how it could have started: While the measles scare has focused on California, the rest of the United States is equally susceptible.
“Of course, California is one of the most infectious states in the world,” Hamell said. “But its immunity is simply higher.”
One of the issues with this environment? Hireings. Multiple states have multiple primary and secondary health care providers who can fill in as one. That leaves people not only vulnerable to the measles, but also to follow-on infections in other states, according to Hamell.
While you might not feel the real strain of this virus yet, it’s looming over you. These cases are the most widespread since measles struck in 1976, when more than 200,000 cases were reported in the United States.
Since then, vaccination rates have skyrocketed to more than 90 percent, but have plateaued in recent years. And that’s what we’re seeing now.
What’s worrisome for Hamell is that while the real fear of an outbreak appears to be waning, the risks still persist.
“Vaccination rates have increased, but the fear is starting to wane,” he said. “So I hope all of this has a silver lining. Because you just can’t take health insurance for granted. It could be dropping off the cliff. You can’t be unvaccinated.”
Our report was written with help from Tribune Content Agency.