We're not even halfway through 2017, yet we've already surpassed the number of measles cases the United States saw in 2016 — in Minnesota alone. There are now 73 confirmed cases of measles in Minnesota, according to CNN, in an outbreak that has gone on for two months. In comparison, there were only 70 cases of measles throughout the entire country last year.
Measles is a scarily contagious disease that can lead to pneumonia, deafness, hospitalization, and death, according to The Washington Post — and its recent uptick in cases is almost certainly due to the rise of the anti-vaccination movement. At least 65 of the people afflicted with measles in Minnesota this year were unvaccinated. Since the outbreak began eight weeks ago, at least 8,250 people have been exposed to the virus, often in school and health care settings, and 21 people have been hospitalized so far.
"Many of the cases could have been prevented if people had gotten vaccinated," Kristen Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division at the state Department of Health, told CNN. "This is a disease that is serious, and the opportunity to prevent it is one that we really need to be taking."
According to STAT, the high measles rate in Minnesota can be attributed to the incessant targeting by anti-vaccine activists who have targeted Somali-American parents in the state: less than half of 24- to 35-month-olds (41 percent) in the community are vaccinated against measles, and of Minnesota's 73 cases of measles, 59 are part of the Somali-American community. But as Saad Omer, professor of global health, epidemiology, and pediatrics at Emory University, was quick to point out in an article for STAT:
The community itself has been a victim of an onslaught of propaganda and misinformation disguised as empathy. ... Public health authorities and practitioners need to work hard to build trust and resilience among minority communities targeted by vaccine skeptics.
To set the record straight: despite years of misinformation around the supposed dangers of vaccines, the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) is very safe and very effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among childen, common side effects include only a sore arm (from the shot), a fever, or a mild rash, while protecting them from a potentially life-threatening disease.
"There is no reason to decline MMR unless the individual is too young to be vaccinated or has a severe immunodeficiency and they cannot be vaccinated," Patricia Stinchfield, director of infection prevention and control for Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, told CNN. Once a person contracts measles, on the other hand, there is no way treat it. "All we can do is provide IV fluids, oxygen and support and hope they survive," Stinchfield said.
Measles was officially eradicated from the United States almost two decades ago, in 2000. Now, however, it seems to be coming back — and its outbreaks are getting worse every year. To help combat the spread, make sure your kids are vaccinated and share accurate, science-backed information with those who spread anti-vaccination myths.