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The Dangers of Not Getting Your Child Vaccinated – When Herd Protection is No Longer Effective in General Public

A measles outbreak that originated in Disneyland in December has now grown to some 87 cases. 

The California Department of Public Health has reported that most of the infections are in California, while other cases have been reported in Arizona, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Nebraska and Mexico.   Most of those infected were not vaccinated. Health officials are urging people to get the shot, and urging parents not to visit the parks if their children are unvaccinated. 

The outbreak is believed to have likely originated from infected tourists outside of the US who were visiting the park and was manifested in mid-December.  Among those infected are at least five Disneyland employees.

Measles is a highly contagious illness spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. The measles virus may also remain present long after the infected person has left the room or well before an infected person has shown any symptoms. The symptoms include a high fever, cough, sore throat, red eyes, rash covering the entire body, and tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth. One to three children in 1,000 who get measles will die from the disease.  There is no treatment or cure for measles; there is only prevention through measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.  The disease can cause serious complications including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea and pneumonia in vulnerable people with reduced immunity. It was largely eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, but can enter the country from abroad.

Health experts encourage unvaccinated people to avoid places where larger numbers of people congregate such as amusement parks, airports, shopping malls, etc.

The outbreak has highlighted increased concerns about the anti-immunization movement against childhood vaccinations largely by parents for health, religious or other reasons, including the unproven theory that the vaccine preservative can cause autism. Herd immunity has provided some protection to those who elect not to vaccinate their child.

What is herd immunity? When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as “community immunity.”

However, the dangers of not vaccinating your child can include an increased risk of the breakdown of herd immunity. Furthermore, while herd immunity can keep the contagious disease contained at the population level, an unvaccinated child will be at risk of catching the disease and suffer some of the potentially deadly or debilitating consequences should he or she come into contact with someone contagious. Getting vaccinated is good for the health of the inoculated person and is also important to help protect the health of others. Because vaccines have been effective in the past and measles cases have been rare, parents do not realize the dangerous effects of the disease and how children can becomes seriously ill and in some cases can even die.

Questions about measles infectious airborne diseases or other public health issues?  Contact the experts at Cogency at  Cogency is best suited to assist you with this and other potential infectious outbreaks because our team of physicians and public health professionals conduct extensive outbreak investigations, causation assessments and have vast experience diagnosing hard to detect environmental issues, and infectious disease exposures.  

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