Measles is going viral

Measles is going viral

Photo Credits: COURTESY

As the measles virus spreads, the unvaccinated are left to the mercy of disease

As opposition to vaccines rises, so does the rate of new measles infections. Just this year alone, there have been 839 cases of measles in the United States. In California, that number is 45.

Since measles was declared virtually nonexistent in the United States in 2000, the recent rise of measles can be attributed to the emerging trend of decreasing vaccination rates.

The measles virus usually arrives via air travel and affects vulnerable populations.

“Outbreaks often begin with imported cases from countries with endemic circulation and grow within unvaccinated subpopulations,” said Courtney Shelley, a Ph.D. candidate in the UC Davis Graduate Group in Epidemiology.

Because someone can spread measles via coughing or sneezing before even having symptoms, an unvaccinated individual may not even know they are contributing to spread of the disease. In fact, someone with the measles virus can infect as many as 90% of everyone that they come into contact with, according to the CDC.

Measles can spread quickly and so has the anti-vaccination movement. Because family and friends tend to share similar ideas, unvaccinated individuals tend to live near each other.

“When measles is introduced into these groups, it can quickly spread into the larger community, infecting immunocompromised individuals who cannot be vaccinated or those in whom the vaccine did not ‘take,’” Shelley said.

Because of the fast rate of spread, it is critical for every person to become vaccinated.

According to Stephen McSorley, a professor and the director for the Center for Comparative Medicine at UC Davis, vaccinating a general majority of the population is not enough to prevent a measles outbreak. In reality, at least 95% of the population needs to have their measles vaccination in order for epidemics to be prevented.

Both McSorley and Shelley agree that because some members of the population are physically unable to get the vaccine, it is imperative that everyone who can, does.

“As an immunologist, it’s very disappointing that people don’t understand the value of these incredible vaccines,” McSorley said. “They work fantastically well, but they only work well for the community when everyone takes them.”

An example of the effects of not vaccinating happened right here in California, with the outbreak last month in Los Angeles.

“The recent UCLA measles outbreak demonstrates the importance of vaccination requirements for college students,” Shelley said.

Since many students travel and come from countries where measles is a circulating disease, college students are at a higher risk of infection, Shelley said.

If you are not already vaccinated, you can become vaccinated with the MMRV vaccine, which will not only protect you from measles, but mumps, rubella and chickenpox as well. According to Shelly, experiencing side effects of this vaccine is both rare and mild.

For more information on how to obtain the vaccine, visit the UC Davis Student Health and Wellness Center’s website.

Written by: Ellen Caminiti –– science@theaggie.org