Indiana Measles Outbreak Curbed by High Vaccination Rate

Measles is a highly contagious, viral infection that can be dangerous to young children. (I suffered through the illness as a child, and it was not fun. The vaccine became available after I had the disease which creates immunity.) Measles was thought eradicated in the United States in 2000 due to a high effective and safe measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. In 2005, 34 cases of measles occurred in an Indiana community, the largest outbreak in years.

The New England Journal of Medicine this week published a study on this outbreak written by Amy Parker and others. summarizes the NEJM study’s findings as follows:

In 2005, an unvaccinated 17-year-old from Indiana traveled to Romania and unknowingly contracted the measles virus, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. When she returned home, the virus quickly spread. Within six weeks, 34 cases of measles were confirmed — the largest documented measles outbreak in the United States since 1996. Most cases were among children and teenagers ages 5 to 19 who hadn’t been vaccinated. More than 70 percent of these children were home-schooled. The measles outbreak was mostly confined to children whose parents had not consented to vaccination, primarily due to concern about vaccine safety. Researchers concluded that high vaccination levels in the surrounding community and low rates of vaccine failure prevented an epidemic.

FEHB plans routinely cover childhood vaccinations, such as the MMR vaccine. ABC News notes

Why do some people choose not to vaccinate their kids? In 1998, the Lancet, a British medical journal, published an article that claimed that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine caused autism in children. The article has since been retracted, but the worry has remained.

That’s a shame. The NEJM study concludes that

The outbreak in Indiana shows that states, localities, and health care organizations need to implement more effective policies to protect persons traveling abroad, home-schooled children, and health care workers against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. In addition, to preclude the experience of those countries where vaccine-preventable diseases have become epidemic through the refusal of vaccination, better communication strategies are needed concerning the adverse events associated with vaccines. These efforts will be necessary to sustain the elimination of measles in the United States.