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Understanding the 21st Century Rise of Measles

Measles, a disease that was eradicated in the United States, South Korea and a vast number of other countries, is recently making a comeback. In this blog, Team Med writes about the rise of measles, the cause, and what can be done. Read on to learn more.

What is measles?

Measles is a contagious viral illness that causes a high fever and skin rashes. It can sometimes cause serious complications such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and pneumonia (a serious lung infection). Early signs of measles are Koplik Spots (clustered white lesions) in the mouth of the patient, followed by the tell-tale rash a few days later.

The measles vaccine

Like all vaccinations, the measles (MMR) vaccine is based on a live but weakened strain of measles, allowing the body to grow resistance without contracting the illness. Prior to the worldwide vaccination against measles, an estimated 2.6 million deaths occurred each year due to the illness.

Once in place, the vaccine was so effective that the United States had eradicated the illness completely in 2000, and Australia had it eradicated in 2014.

Measles outbreaks worldwide

From Australia to the Philippines, USA and France, case after case of measles outbreaks are recorded – and come with their own devastating effects. Children, the elderly, and those who cannot receive vaccinations are hit hardest, with death tolls rising rapidly worldwide. So, if there’s an effective way to prevent deaths from measles, why is measles making a comeback?

The rise of the anti-vaxxers

The anti-vax (or vaccine hesitant) movement sprung out from a since-debunked, scientific study that linked vaccinations with autism. No such link has since been found. It was also found that the main author of the paper following the study had been paid by attorneys seeking to file a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers.

Yet the idea stuck. Today, most anti-vaccine parents can be grouped into the following four categories: personal beliefs or philosophical reasons, religious reasons, safety concerns, and a desire for more information from healthcare providers, with safety concerns being the quickest-growing reason. In order to reduce vaccine hesitancy and remove fears associated with vaccines, a careful and open conversation about vaccines with hesitant patients is key.

The children of anti-vaxxers

But children of anti-vaxxers are striking back – and so are governments. Last week it was reported that a teenager got vaccinated against the wishes of his parents, and online forums are cropping up filled with unvaccinated kids and teenagers looking for ways to get vaccinated.

Australia now imposes monthly financial penalties on anti-vaxxers, following in the footsteps of France and other countries, and Queensland has imposed a ‘No Jab No Play’ policy to minimize spread of measles. With measles once being eradicated in Australia, new legislation is likely to be put in place to curb the modern spread of measles.

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