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The Return of Measles: ‘First as Tragedy, Then as Farce’

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By the year 2000, the number of cases of measles that originated in the US had been reduced to zero. Worldwide, the overall numbers continue to decrease, thanks to the inexpensive proliferation of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.  According to the Notifiable Diseases and Mortality Tables from the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, there were 223 reported cases of measles for 2011 occurring over 17 outbreaks in the U.S. The trend of the disappearing case of the measles has also reversed in Europe. European countries are seeing a large increase in their numbers of measles cases since 2009 because the number of vaccinated people has decreased.

This troubling reversal is due perhaps in part to the controversy raised by former Dr. Andrew Wakefield.  Now widely publicized, Wakefield’s fall from grace spawned a number of high profile anti-vaccination outcries when his published 1998 study in the Lancet linked the administration of the MMR vaccine to the development of autism in young children.  When Wakefield’s findings were unable to be independently reproduced, the Lancet retracted his published paper. An article in the British Medical Journal denounced Wakefield’s research as an “elaborate fraud” and a tribunal by the General Medical Council found that Wakefield ”failed in his duties as a responsible consultant” and acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly.” Wakefield was eventually barred from practicing medicine in the UK.

Perhaps, though, too much of the blame has fallen on one irresponsible clinician.  Perhaps the western world became complacent with the reality that measles were, are, and will continue to be a threat to the health of society, worldwide. The only proven way to effectively protect someone against contracting measles is to get the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.

Measles is highly contagious and spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Throughout the world, there are an estimated 20 million cases leading to about 164,000 deaths from measles each year, which is a great improvement from the 2.6 million deaths that occurred before the measles vaccine was developed and widely utilized.

Ongoing, routine vaccination is key to prevention. Without a global concerted effort to defend the established medical science science of the 20st century, the 21st century may well relive a history which came first as tragedy, and repeated as a farce.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Godlee, F., Smith, J., & Marcovitch, H. (2011). Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent BMJ, 342 (jan05 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c7452

C Klostermann. ‘Is history repeating itself?Aetiology

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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