The debate over the legitimacy of vaccines continues, with arguments heating up on both sides. Despite the fact that cases of measles in the U.S. have been steadily dropping since the measles vaccine was introduced in 2000, some people still refuse the vaccine. And this becomes a problem when people who are unvaccinated enter communities where outbreaks can happen, either in the U.S. or abroad. Because when those travelers who went abroad return home, they pose a serious risk to unvaccinated, immunocompromised people. Maine reported its first case of measles in 20 years, and it could be an idea of what's coming down the pike.
According to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine on Tuesday, a confirmed case of measles cropped up in Franklin County. While no news identifying the patient has been released, state epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett confirmed to Bangor Daily News that the person had contracted the disease while traveling overseas. Dr. Bennett released a statement to Bangor Daily News about the case of measles, saying:
The Maine CDC is working with clinicians to identify potentially exposed individuals and make appropriate recommendations to prevent transmission.
Locations where people might have contracted the highly contagious disease are:
- Narrow Gauge Cinema, Farmington, Maine
- Grantlee's Tavern and Grill, Farmington
- Farmington's Farmer's Market
- Kingsfield Woodsman, Kingsfield, Maine
- Restaurant la Chocolaterie, Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada
- Franklin Memorial Hospital Emergency Department
- Franklin Memorial Hospital Labratory
The CDC reported that the disease is vaccine-preventable but incredibly contagious.
Measles starts with fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat. It’s followed by a rash that spreads over the body. Measles virus is highly contagious virus and spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing.
While this is the first case of measles in the state of Maine in 20 years, there have been cases in other states. From January to June of 2017, 108 cases of measles were reported in 11 states (California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington), according to the CDC. Most cases of measles were brought in to the country by travelers who had visited areas where measles is still common, like Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. However, the vast majority of people who contracted the disease had not been vaccinated.
According to the CDC:
Measles can spread when it reaches a community in the U.S. where groups of people are unvaccinated.
This is why the concept of "herd immunity" (making sure enough people within a community have been vaccinated to protect vulnerable people who could still be exposed, like the elderly, the ill, and children too small to be vaccinated) is so important.
Protecting young children and immunocompromised people from potentially fatal diseases when the vaccine is at our disposal should not be up for debate. The MMR vaccine is considered safe and effective. Certainly safer than contracting measles, at any rate. And people who refuse to receive it pose a danger to others, and they pose and even greater danger when they're allowed to travel abroad after refusing to receive it.