Measles (Taking Your Best Shot)

If you thought measles epidemics were a thing of the past, guess again. One hundred and twenty thousand people die of measles, worldwide, each year.

In Canada and the United States, hundreds of confirmed cases suggest that the disease, once all but eradicated from North America, is making a strong comeback. Today, parents who refuse to immunize their children, or they, against measles are playing a dangerous game. Recent measles outbreaks in Western Canada and California have reintroduced this almost-forgotten disease to public consciousness. Ironically, anti-vaccination sentiment may be at the root of the problem.

In British Columbia's Fraser Valley, there have been 300 reported cases of measles, the worst outbreak in that province's history. There have been 21 confirmed cases of measles in Orange County, California, in both areas, most of the cases involved people who were not vaccinated. This has fueled conjecture that recent trends against childhood immunization have contributed to the epidemic.

A decade ago when vaccination rates were high, measles appeared dormant in modern society. Apart from cases imported from foreign countries, cases arising from within the North American population were rare. Recent statistics suggest that this most contagious of human diseases is making a strong comeback supported, at least in part, by anti-vaccination trends.

People refuse to immunize their children for a variety of reasons. Some feel that vaccinations are an unsafe practice. Others believe that their child's immune system provides adequate protection against disease. Still, others believe that when disease strikes, it's God's will.

What can't be debated is the fad that measles can kill. European statistics suggest that one to two percent of people who contract the disease will die. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports an annual death toll of 120,000, worldwide.

Even when it doesn't kill, the measles virus is a dangerous foe. Complications, apart from the nasty and characteristic rash, include serious ear infections, severe diarrhea, pneumonia, and encephalitis. Nearly one in three infected children require hospitalization.

To be fair, fears that vaccines may be harmful are not groundless. A few people develop a mild rash, fever, swollen glands, or joint pain and stiffness after vaccination. More serious, and rarer, side effects include a temporary low blood platelet count or serious allergic reaction. It is also true that no vaccine provides total protection against infection.

These facts, although not easily dismissed, pale in comparison with the go percent risk of infection that unvaccinated people face when they come in contact with someone with the illness. Because the measles virus has not mutated over time, the vaccine has remained constant for almost two decades, making it a tried and proven commodity.

Clearly, the argument for taking the vaccine is as compelling as any opposition to its use. It is only due to the vaccine that measles is classified as a preventable disease. Faced with the alternative to walking around unprotected, the measles vaccine could be your or your child's, best shot.