Among the various childhood rites of passages, many of us will recall a bout of measles as one of them. From a kid's perspective way back when, it did have a plus side — staying home from school, eating chicken soup and watching cartoons.
But the illness is no trivial matter.
Recent reports have shown a resurgence nationally of measles, a highly contagious virus usually identifiable by red spots/rashes appearing on a victim's body, and generally associated with young children. Dr. Kristen Feemster, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine's Division of Infectious Diseases, considers the resurgence to be in part due to families refusing to have their kids vaccinated.
"Nationally, our rates of vaccination are quite high. However, there are smaller communities where individuals have not vaccinated their children. When this happens, it does not take much for measles to re-establish itself.""If you really want to prevent the spread of measles in the community, you are going to have to convince the public to get vaccinated," she says.
What makes the comeback of measles all the more ironic is that it is entirely preventable, thanks to one of the most effective vaccinations around. Several local doctors concur with Feemster, pointing to the refusal of some parents to immunize their children as contributing to the problem.
Their message to the public: Just do it!
If some parents have concerns about the cure being worse than the illness, those fears have been eradicated through science, according to Dr. Paul A. Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Cen- ter at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"Though it is perfectly reasonable for parents to have the question of whether or not the vaccine triggers autism or other illnesses and disabilities, the research has been done and the question unequivocally answered: No, the measles vaccine does not cause autism," states the doctor.
Through the end of April this year, there have been 33 cases reported. Though statistically, this number is a little bit behind where we were this time last year, it could theoretically rise as the year progresses and possibly be worse than last year, says Offit.
This in itself, he adds, should motivate parents to reconsider, especially with global travel being more commonplace.
"The source for" the surge "is Europe," Offit continues. "In 2011, the area the World Health Organization defines as the European region had nearly 30,000 cases with 7,000 hospitalizations and nine deaths from measles.
Dr. Steven Shapiro, chairman, Department of Pediatrics at Abington Memorial Hospital, explains the necessity for vaccination through a theory called "the herd effect."
Theoretically, if you immunize 95 of 100 cows in the community, the five that are not immunized will not get sick because the other cows are immunized, he says. However, with society becoming increasingly global, and "herds" of children mixing when they go from school to soccer practice, camp, on an overseas family vacation or have a chance meeting with a family of tourists from abroad, that all can change.
That was the story behind one recent case from Bucks County, where a young boy who had moved to the area from India got sick and passed measles along to other children.
"In essence, measles may resurface in communities where there is an intense population that chooses not to immunize," says Shapiro. "We had a major outbreak in Philadelphia recently at the Faith Tabernacle Church in the Northeast; as religious fundamentalists, they refused to immunize.
Like Offit, Shapiro has also observed that in the United States, there will be years in which relatively few cases are found while in others the numbers increase exponentially.
If you do not immunize your child on time, and he or she does contract the illness, the one reassuring thing, he notes, is that with proper care and rest, the illness is self-limiting to cold-like symptoms and some very uncomfortable rashes, although there are exceptions that can cause complications, such as when the child has additional immunity-based health issues.