California officials issued a health alert this week over a measles outbreak that appears to have originated at Disneyland theme parks. Nine cases of the highly contagious virus have been confirmed so far in people who recently visited the tourist destination — most of whom haven’t been vaccinated against measles.
Health officials have tracked nine measles cases in California and Utah and are working to confirm an additional three suspected cases. They say that one infected person probably spread the virus throughout the parks. The infected people range from eight months to 21 years old.
Eight of the nine people who have come down with measles have not received the recommended vaccinations against it. Two of the cases involve children who are too young to receive the measles vaccine and are dependent upon herd immunity to protect them from the disease.
Measles is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Since it can be transmitted so easily, one person who has it can potentially put thousands of other people at risk. The disease used to send about 48,000 Americans to the hospital every year, and is particularly dangerous for babies, who can suffer from lung infections or even lifelong brain damage in some cases. But thanks to the development of the vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), the disease has been virtually eradicated in this country.
Doctors recommend that children should receive a first measles shot when they’re about a year old and a second shot around the age of five. The two doses of the vaccine are 99 percent effective.
However, measles is now making a comeback among pockets of people who haven’t gotten their MMR shots. In recent years, there has been a dramatic uptick in the number of measles cases in the U.S.; there was actually a record-breaking number of infections in 2014. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have traced the majority of cases back to people who haven’t been vaccinated.
Deeply rooted conspiracies about vaccines appear to be at least partly to blame. An increasing number of parents are choosing to skip their kids’ MMR shots based on the scientifically inaccurate belief that the vaccine can lead to autism. The myth is so prevalent that the CDC has been forced to address it on its fact sheet about measles. “Scientists in the United States and other countries have carefully studied the MMR shot. None has found a link between autism and the MMR shot,” federal health officials write.
Anti-vaccine beliefs are particularly prevalent in Disneyland’s home state. People in California — and especially left-wing parents in Los Angeles’ wealthy school districts — are opting to waive their children’s vaccination requirements in rising numbers. Doctors in those areas are now receiving more training about how to convince parents to make different choices.
“If you have symptoms, and believe you may have been exposed, please contact your healthcare provider,” state health officer Ron Chapman said in a statement after the measles cases at Disneyland were first confirmed. “The best way to prevent measles and its spread is to get vaccinated.”
There are now more than a 100 countries, including low-income nations like Cambodia and Rwanda, that are better at vaccinating against measles than the United States.