Prior to the use of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, hundreds of those infected with the measles would die yearly, tens of thousands would be hospitalized and around 1,000 cases would result in chronic disability. Decades later, after believing that endemic transmission of this highly contagious illness was eradicated in the United States in 2000, cases are on the rise again, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is heartbreaking to watch something happen that is completely preventable,” said David Kimberlin, M.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham professor of pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ liaison to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
“This would not be happening if people trusted us and got their measles vaccinations,” said Kimberlin, who sees patients at Children's of Alabama. “Someone eventually will die from measles, leaving many asking why it couldn't have been prevented, but it can be.”
Kimberlin said measles cases are making it into the United States through international travelers, but it is finding fertile ground in communities because of the percentage of people in those communities who are not vaccinated against measles.
The CDC reports 159 cases between Jan. 1 and Aug. 24, 2013, with 82 percent of the cases in unvaccinated persons, and 9 percent with unknown vaccination status. Ninety-nine percent of the cases were import-related.
“It is like tossing a lit match on dry grass,” Kimberlin said. “The message to take home from this is quite simple: get vaccinated against all vaccine-preventable diseases and be protected from them, or do not get vaccinated and run the very-real risk of getting those diseases and possibly dying.”