It was once called a “childhood disease,” but there was never anything childish or innocent about it. Measles, also called rubeola, is an infectious virus that can cause severe complications such as blindness and even death. At its height, there were millions of cases of measles in the United States each year, resulting in hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of hospitalizations. Recently, officials at the Pan American Health Organization in Washington, D.C., declared that North America and South America are free of endemic measles cases, that is, cases originating in the Americas. Though a large outbreak occurred in 2014 and 2015, it was caused by an outbreak in the Philippines. Widespread vaccination campaigns starting in the 1960s resulted in millions of Americans becoming immune to the disease and preventing outbreaks from spreading. Thanks to the measles vaccine, medical science has the means to ending this scourge around the world.
The simple facts on measles and the vaccine:
1. Measles is a highly contagious disease, spread easily by coughing or sneezing, and there are no antiviral treatments once it is contracted.
2. Measles is marked by a cough, runny nose, and high fever that lasts for four to seven days followed by an outbreak of the characteristic rash that spreads all over the body.
3. Children under 5 and adults over 20 are most at risk for measles complications, which can include blindness, ear infections, dehydration and encephalitis (which can cause brain swelling).
4. In the rest of the world, as measles continues to be a public health menace, the International Red Cross reports that 114,000 people died from the measles in 2014.
5. The Centers for Disease Control recommends two doses of the vaccine for measles (which are usually combined with vaccines for the mumps and rubella, two other potentially deadly diseases), and the vaccine is more than 97 percent effective in preventing the disease.
6. The measles vaccine is safe and effective and does not cause autism.
7. Dr. Maurice Hilleman developed the first measles vaccine, which became available in 1963 and saved upward of 1 million lives.
8. The World Health Organization reports that 85 percent of children worldwide are now vaccinated, resulting in a 79 percent drop in measles deaths. The WHO believes that the disease could be eliminated by 2020.
9. In spite of the news that the United States is free of measles cases that originate within the United States, doctors and researchers still urgently recommend vaccinations against measles to protect individuals from this deadly disease.
— Dr. Bridges is a professor of history and geography living in Arkansas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.