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Health Talk Recommends: Measles, the most infectious of all infectious diseases

Photo: Dave Haygarth via Flickr

Measles is a rare but potentially deadly disease in children. According to a recent article by Tom Frieden, M.D., director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 60 cases of measles in the U.S. each year. In 2013, however, there have been 175 reported cases in the first 11 months.

And while that number doesn’t seem outrageous, measles is a very serious disease. According to Frieden, “Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 9 of 10 people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”

In today’s global community, measles is only a plane ride away. Frieden added, “Some think infectious diseases are no longer a problem in the industrialized world. But the fact is that infectious diseases continue to be with us. That’s why prevention is the key.”

Mark Schleiss, M.D., an American Legion and Auxiliary Heart Research Foundation Professor within the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and division director of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology, agrees completely.

“It’s been well proven that vaccines are not only safe for the person being vaccinated but also for those around them. We need to keep immunization levels at a high level so that we will all be protected,” said Schleiss.

But what if parents think that high levels of vaccination in the other kids will help their kids stay protected, and therefore their own children don’t need to be vaccinated?

Schleiss refutes, “Parents can’t rely on the ‘other’ 95 percent of vaccinated kids if they choose to be a part of the 5 percent that refuses vaccination. Because measles is highly contagious and transmittable via exposure to individuals from other parts of the world, that is precisely why we need 100 percent vaccination.”

Frieden offers this bit of advice for all parents, “We must continue to be vigilant about measles transmission here at home. Parents should protect their children by making sure they’ve had two doses of measles vaccine. And all of us should make sure we’re up-to-date on vaccinations, particularly prior to overseas travel. These steps will protect the United States from measles until the world becomes measles-free.”

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