New outbreak of an old disease

In California's Disneyland, an outbreak of the measles  has spread throughout the area and to surrounding states.

Matt Pasant (Flickr Storm)

In California’s Disneyland, an outbreak of the measles has spread throughout the area and to surrounding states.

Measles. For some it invokes the image of their childhood; for others it is merely a dead disease. But with the recent outbreak of measles in California, is measles back and on the rise?

Measles was prominent in America up to 1963. According to the Washington Post writer and pediatrician Howard J. Bennet, there were 500,000 cases and 450 deaths reported each year before the vaccine was introduced.

“Most kids who get measles are sick for seven to 10 days. It begins with the symptoms of a cold: runny nose, cough, sore throat, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and fever. After a few days, a red, blotchy rash starts on the face and spreads all over the body. Serious complications include dehydration, pneumonia or an inflammation of the brain called encephalitis,” Bennet wrote in a Washington Post news article.

However, unlike the recent Ebola outbreak in which the disease could not survive for long enough outside of the human body to rapidly spread, measles is a highly contagious virus.

“Measles is one of the most contagious viruses known to science,” Bennet wrote.

The virus can be in the air for up to two hours after the person has left the area, and is spread through air exposure.

The recent outbreak started in California’s Disneyland. Believed to have entered the country with an international citizen, the measles virus has spread to several people in the Southwest area.

As measles cases continue to climb, experts like Bennet are paying close attention to the statistics of this year’s outbreak.

“To date, more than 120 confirmed cases have been reported in 17 states and the District of Columbia,” Bennet wrote.

Most people are vaccinated with two measles shots. There is one in early childhood at 12-15 months and then another at age four to six. These vaccinations help reduce the possibility of getting measles by two percent. So how did the measles spread if humans are protected by these vaccines?

It all comes down to those who choose not to vaccinate. Some parents are opposed to getting the measles shot due to personal beliefs. A mother of three living in Oregon, Jolynn Reynolds opted out of the measles shot for her children due to personal beliefs.

“I’m their parent, I’m in charge of that decision and I sure would hate to inject them with something that has a potential high risk of hurting them,” Reynolds said in a recent interview with CBS.

While Reynolds believes that it is her individual choice to make the decision, law-makers are deciding whether to place restrictions on opting out of the measles vaccine. In Oregon, parents must now get their children vaccinated before Wednesday, Feb. 18,  or they will not be allowed to attend school. Even if parents  decide not to get the vaccine for their children, they must still watch an educational video before making a claim as to why they will not be receiving the shot. Also, the state is considering revoking accepting “personal beliefs” as a reason not to be vaccinated according to CBS.

Although some students are not taking measles shots, Sarah Kliff, a Health and Science writer for the Vox believes that the vaccine is not for the individual, but rather for the community as a whole.

“The point of getting vaccinated isn’t to keep you from getting the flu. It’s to create herd immunity, or a firewall that stops a disease from bouncing from me to you. Herd immunity matters the most for those with compromised immune systems like infants, the elderly, and some auto-immune disease patients (some people who have AIDS, for example, can’t get the measles vaccine),” Kliff reported in a Vox article.

While believing that it is an individual’s choice to receive the vaccine, West High Library Secretary Deborah Geiser is also for government intervention.

“Everyone person should be responsible for their own children. On the other hand a lot of states have authorized that if you are going to get into school you have to have certain vaccinations. It doesn’t hurt because some people might not be totally aware of what is going on and what measles is,” Geiser said.

Along with Geiser, freshmen Nora Pentahallgon supports more education on this new outbreak of an old virus.

“I think people need to be educated more on how dangerous the measles can be because this virus is new to younger people,” she said.

Pentahallgon believes in the effectiveness of the vaccination.

“It’s a dangerous disease, so I think people should be vaccinated. Our children can get it and it’s better for them to be protected against it than not,” she said.

This is one of the largest measles outbreaks in recent American history. While cases continue to develop around the country,  Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases is worried for America’s future with this disease.

“Here’s the glass-half-empty view: So far this year, there are already more cases of measles than during an entire typical year,” Schuchat said in an interview with CNN. “This worries me and I want to do everything possible to prevent measles from getting a foothold in the United States and becoming endemic again.”