Measles cases in US hit 15-year high

September 22, 2011 8:01:32 PM PDT
Health officials across California are worried about the measles. The unusually high number of cases this year is not a good sign.

Because of vaccines, we hardly hear about the measles anymore. It's very rare, but it could be making a comeback. More than 200 people across the country have been diagnosed with the disease, which is the highest count in 15 years.

Public health officials say California is now outpacing the rest of the country in the number of measles cases this year, only 28 people have contracted the highly contagious disease, but that's the highest in a decade.

Many of the patients live in Los Angeles, San Diego, Mendocino and Santa Clara counties and most traveled internationally to Asia and Europe where there have been widespread outbreaks.

"One in a 1,000 can have an infection of the brain and one to three in a 1,000 can actually die from the disease. So, in fact, it is a very, very serious disease," said Eileen Yamada, M.D., from the California Department of Public Health.

"They fear the vaccine more than the disease," said Catherine Martin of the California Immunization Coalition.

Martin blames the measles surge on lower immunization rates. She says parents are still worried about a connection between vaccines and autism, even though numerous studies have de-bunked that.

Still, parents are increasingly filling out the Personal Belief Exemption form, or PBE, allowing children to start school without their shots. That's nearly 12,000 kindergartners last year; up from 8,000 four years ago.

"In California, we think it's too easy to get a Personal Belief Exemption for vaccinations. It's really public health issue. We think the legislature needs to re-visit the language around this law," said Martin.

One lawmaker who's also a pediatrician is listening.

"People should really think about why it is that they would want a PBE. Is it based on fear or is it based on actual information?" said Assm. Richard Pan, M.D., D-Natomas.

Some parents are surprised to hear so many vaccine exemptions are allowed.

"If you're sending your kids to a public school, you assume that everybody has to have the same shots, the same vaccines that your kids have to have," said Cindy Huber, a mother.

Others want parents to have choices.

"If they want to vaccinate, fine. If they don't, fine. But I vaccinate my child because I want him protected. I don't want him to get sick," said Victoria Rule, a mother.

Yamada said after a person with measles coughs or sneezes, the virus can linger for up to two hours in that airspace.


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