Before kids head back to school, health officials in Texas are hoping they receive all of their shots. A measles outbreak in the state is concerning medical professionals, who say it’s a highly-contagious infection that can spread rapidly.
Texas’ health department issued an alert on Friday, pointing out that the state has seen more measles cases this year than at any point since 1996. “We issued the alert because most physicians probably don’t see this disease that often,” a spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services explained. Nonetheless, it’s back. Nine people have come down with measles within the past month.
For now, the outbreak seems to be contained within Northern Texas. But health officials in neighboring Oklahoma are worried that the virus may end up spreading across the border. “We are worried about the current outbreak of measles in Texas because measles is very contagious, spreads like wildfire, and can be very serious,” Lori Linstead, the director of the Immunization Service at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said on Wednesday.
The United Kingdom has also seen a recent surge in measles cases — largely credited to a widely-debunked 1998 study that incorrectly linked the measles vaccine with autism. The vaccination rates for the virus are higher in the United States than they are across the pond. But that pervasive myth about autism has still had some effect on parents in this country.
“Measles is probably the most contagious virus that we know of,” Dr. William Schaffner, the chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News. “More importantly, there are an increasing number of children whose parents are delaying immunization or stretching them out, and others who are simply withholding these children from immunizations because of autism.”
Public health officials have worked tirelessly to combat misinformation about children’s vaccines, which can have huge implications for attempts to contain the spread of contagious infections. For example, after the HPV vaccine was introduced, teen rates of HPV were cut in half. Thanks to vaccines, the United States has almost totally eradicated over a dozen infectious diseases that used to be very common, like polio and smallpox. But many parents are still wary to follow the recommended vaccination schedule for their children because it appears like it’s not spaced out far enough. The Centers for Disease Control repeatedly reminds parents that the current vaccination schedule is nothing to worry about, and delaying vaccines can be dangerous — as evidenced in Texas.