Most people understand that measles can be deadly.
“Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. Before the introduction of measles vaccine in 1963 and widespread vaccination, major epidemics occurred approximately every 2–3 years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.”
WHO Measles Fact Sheet
In the United States alone, in the pre-vaccine era, “an average of 549,000 measles cases and 495 measles deaths were reported annually.”
That roughly translates into about one death for every 1,000 cases, or a case-fatality rate of about 0.1%.
That’s in line with the typical case-fatality rate of measles of 0.1 to 0.2%.
Just How Deadly Is Measles?
Not surprisingly, many others have reported a similar case-fatality rate for measles.
Not everyone though.
The ironically named Physicians for Informed Consent suggests that it should be much, much lower.
Because of a 1989 report that said that “Before measles vaccine was available, more than 400,000 measles cases were reported each year in the United States. However, since virtually all children acquired measles, the true number of cases probably exceeded 4 million per year (i.e., the entire birth cohort).”
Their idea is that if there were more cases (i.e., the entire birth cohort), then even if almost 500 people died each year, the extra cases would make the death rate lower.
There are a lot of problems with that reasoning though…
For one thing, 500 people dying each year of a now vaccine-preventable disease is a lot of people, no matter how you to frame it!
And the traditional stat about the measles fatality rate clearly mentions that this is about reported cases.
You can’t change the number of measles cases to a theoretical number, the entire birth cohort, and keep the number of deaths based on the number of reported cases, and think that you are still talking about the same thing. What if deaths from measles were under-reported too?
“Death from measles was reported in approximately 0.2% of the cases in the United States from 1985 through 1992.”
CDC Pink Book
And there are plenty of more recent statistics, when far fewer people were getting measles, that show a similar case fatality rate.
What Is the Measles Fatality Rate?
How else do we know that The Physicians for Informed Consent is misinforming people?
“…any parent who has seen his small child suffer even for a few days with persistent fever of 105 F, with hacking cough and delirium, wants to see this prevented…”
Alexander D Langmuir, MD on the Medical Importance of Measles
Their measles ‘information’ sheet, made by folks who have likely never treated a child with measles, say that “most measles cases are benign.”
That’s a bit different than Dr. Langmuir’s 1962 account of how the typical child suffered with measles and why he welcomed the new measles vaccine.
“Nevertheless, a resurgence of measles occurred during 1989–1991, again demonstrating the serious medical burden of the disease. More than 55,000 cases, 123 deaths, and 11,000 hospitalizations were reported”
Orenstein et al on Measles Elimination in the United States
What was the case fatality rate during the measles outbreaks in the late 1980s?
It was a little over 0.2%. Did we again under-count cases or was the case-fatality rate so high because most of the cases were in younger, preschool age children?
Anyway, whether the case fatality rate is 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 10,000 (the UK lists their measles case fatality rate at 1 in 5,000), it doesn’t mean that someone will die when you hit case number 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000. It could be the 1st case in an outbreak or the 15,000th.
Measles can be deadly. That’s why most of us choose to have our kids vaccinated and protected.
Do you know how many people had measles in the 2013 outbreak in Brooklyn when a pregnant woman developed measles and had a miscarriage? The outbreak that was started by an unvaccinated teenager included a total of 58 cases.
How about the 2015 outbreak in Clallam County, Washington in which an immunocompromised woman died of pneumonia due to measles? There were only five other cases, almost all unvaccinated.
And in many European countries last year, many of the deaths are in countries with few cases. When the 17-year-old unvaccinated girl in Portugal died, there were just 31 cases. In Switzerland, a vaccinated man with leukemia died in an outbreak with just 69 cases. There were only 163 cases when an unvaccinated 10-month-old died in Bulgaria. And there were fewer than 1,000 cases in Germany when a partially vaccinated mother of three children died.
More Myths About Measles
The Physicians for Informed Consent pushes a lot of other myths and misinformation about measles:
- about using vitamin A to treat measles – where this works, in developing countries, untreated measles has a case fatality ratio of 5 to 40% because of malnutrition! It isn’t usually thought to be very helpful in an industrial country without malnutrition. And no, simply having a picky eater or one who eats a lot of junk food doesn’t mean that he will be helped by vitamin A if he gets measles
- about using immunoglobulin to treat measles – the MMR vaccine and immune globulin can be used for post-exposure prophylaxis, but it is not a treatment once you have measles!
- they misuse VAERS data to try and say the MMR vaccine is more dangerous than getting measles
What else do they leave out? The idea that people who survive a measles infection can have some immunosuppression for up to two to three years! This measles-induced immune damage puts them at risk of dying from other diseases and helps explain why kids who are vaccinated against measles are also less likely to die from other childhood infections.
They even published a press release claiming that they “recently reported in “The BMJ” that every year about 5,700 U.S. children suffer seizures from the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.”
Their report? It was a “letter to the editor” that anyone can submit online…
What to Know About Measles Propaganda from The Physicians for Informed Consent
The Physicians for Informed Consent push propaganda to make you think that vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, aren’t that bad and that vaccines are really, really dangerous.
More on Measles Propaganda from The Physicians for Informed Consent
- Physicians for Informed Consent – another radical anti-vaccine group
- Will 2017 be the antivaccine year?
- WHO – Measles Fact Sheet
- CDC – Measles (Pink Book)
- CDC – Measles Prevention: Recommendations of the Immunization Practices Advisory Committee (ACIP)
- CDC – Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases
- Study – Measles elimination in the United States
- Editorial – Medical importance of measles
- CDC – Notes from the Field: Measles Outbreak Among Members of a Religious Community — Brooklyn, New York, March–June 2013
- Study – Measles mortality. Analysis of the primary cause of death.
- Study – Long-term measles-induced immunomodulation increases overall childhood infectious disease mortality.
- Study – Measles mortality reduction contributes substantially to reduction of all cause mortality among children less than five years of age, 1990-2008.
- Study – Vitamin A for measles in children
- Immune Globulin for Measles Postexposure Prophylaxis