Return of measles: What's the big deal?

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
Posted 5/19/19

Older adults who caught measles when they were younger — or had friends who did — might wonder why such a big deal is being made about it today.According to the Centers for Disease Control and …

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Return of measles: What's the big deal?

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Older adults who caught measles when they were younger — or had friends who did — might wonder why such a big deal is being made about it today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles was once very common in the United States. However, the virus was “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000, and public health officials hope to see that happen again.

“Most of us have never seen the deadly consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases can have on a child, family or community, and that’s the way we want to keep it,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a recent press briefing.

The CDC reports that in the 10 years before a vaccine for measles came out in 1963, “nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age.” An estimated 3 to 4 million people in the U.S. were infected each year.

While many fully recovered, some had serious complications. During that same 10-year period in the U.S., an estimated 48,000 people were hospitalized for measles each year, 1,000 suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain) each year, and 400 to 500 died each year.

The introduction of the vaccine led to a sharp decrease in the number of measles cases — and measles complications — in the U.S. That is why public health officials are wary of recent trends. 

“Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the history books, not in our emergency room,” said Azar.

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