The measles outbreak has triggered a debate over the value of vaccines.
A small but vocal group of activists argue that vaccines are harmful to children, despite the scientific community’s overwhelming insistence and evidence that they’re safe and valuable medical tools.
Unsurprisingly, some potential 2016 presidential candidates have weighed in and injected politics into the debate. Here are some basic questions and answers about measles and the vaccine controversy:
Q: What is measles?
A: A highly contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus.
Q: What are the symptoms?
A: They can be similar to those of a cold with a runny nose, cough and sore throat, but also include a fever and red eyes. If they persist for two to four days, a rash will spread over the body.
Q: How do you get it?
A: When a contaminated person coughs or sneezes, the disease is spread through the air and remains viable for up to two hours after the infected person leaves. People are contagious from four days before the rash through four days after it subsides.
Q: Is measles dangerous?
A: Complications can include pneumonia, bronchitis, irritation and swelling of the brain, ear infections and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common cause of death from measles in young children is pneumonia, with as many as 1 out of every 20 contaminated children developing pneumonia.
Q: Didn’t they develop a vaccine and no one got measles anymore?
A: Yes, measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 as a result of vaccinations.
Q: Then why are we talking about it again?
A: There was an outbreak of measles at Disneyland in December, with 59 confirmed cases in California alone, 42 of which were directly linked to the Disneyland outbreak as of the end of December. The confirmed cases include five Disney employees.
Q: How many people were infected across the U.S.?
A: In January, the CDC found that 102 people from 14 states had measles: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Q: Why are vaccines suddenly controversial?
A: Some people believe anecdotal evidence that vaccinations may lead to autism. A 1998 British study linked childhood vaccines to the condition, but the medical journal that published the study retracted it in 2010. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies analyzed more than 1,000 research articles in 2011 and found no evidence supporting a link between immunization and autism.
A: What do the anti-vaccine activists say?
Q: “The hype about . . . measles reportedly linked to Disneyland has more to do with covering up vaccine failures and propping up the dissolving myth of vaccine-acquired herd immunity than it does about protecting the public health,” Barbara Loe Fisher, the co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a leader in this movement, wrote Jan. 28.
A: What do experts say?
Q: The CDC reports that one dose of the measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective and two doses are about 97 percent effective. It recommends that all children get two doses. The CDC also confirms that there’s no tie between vaccines and autism.
A: Do states have different laws regarding vaccinations?
Q: While almost all states require a number of vaccinations for children, specific exemptions vary by each state. Religious exemption is granted in almost all states, while 20 allow philosophical exemption for people who object to vaccines. California parents, for example, don’t have to vaccinate their kids before kindergarten under these exemptions. In Mississippi, parents can forgo vaccination only for medical reasons, leading to the state’s 99.7 percent vaccination rate and no cases of measles this year.