Category: Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Why Haven’t We Eradicated Measles Already?

The first measles vaccine was developed in 1963.

So why do we still have measles?

Shouldn’t measles be on the list with all of the other eradicated diseases, like smallpox and, well smallpox…

Why Haven’t We Eradicated Measles Already?

Eradicating a disease is not as simple as developing a vaccine.

If it were, a lot of diseases would have been eradicated already.

Hopefully, we will add more to the list of eradicated diseases, but there are some that will never be eradicated. Tetanus, for example, is ubiquitous in soil, so would be nearly impossible to eradicate. Other diseases, like rabies and yellow fever, would be hard to eradicate because they can infect animals or insects.

What about measles?

Anti-vaccine folks do not understand herd immunity.

While there was never a goal to eradicate measles by 1967, we have missed several deadlines to get measles under better control.

What was the first deadline?

“Recent successes in interrupting indigenous transmission of measles virus in the Americas and in the United Kingdom prompted the World Health Organization (WHO), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and CDC to convene a meeting in July, 1996 to consider the feasibility of global measles eradication.”

Measles Eradication: Recommendations from a Meeting Cosponsored by the World HealthOrganization, the Pan American Health Organization, and CDC

Folks started talking about measles eradication in 1996.

Before that though, there had been a goal to eliminate measles in the United States.

“An effort is underway to eliminate indigenous measles from the United States; a target date of October 1, 1982 has been set.”

Although we missed that initial target date, we weren’t too far off.

“In 1978, the US Public Health Service initiated a Measles Elimination Program with the goal of eliminating measles from the United States by 1982. The goals of this program included (1) maintenance of high levels of immunity,(2) careful surveillance of disease, and (3) aggressive control of outbreaks. Unfortunately, the program failed, predominantly because of the failure to implement the recommended vaccination strategy and because of vaccine failure. An increase in measles cases was sustained from 1983 through 1991 and was particularly dramatic from 1989 through 1991.”

Poland et al on Failure to Reach the Goal of Measles Elimination

There is also the fact that measles is just so dang contagious!

Improving vaccination rates and a two-dose MMR schedule helped decrease measles rates even further and finally eliminate the endemic spread of measles in the United States in 2000.

What were some other deadlines and goals?

  • In 1989, the World Health Assembly resolved to reduce measles morbidity and mortality by 90% and 95%, respectively, by 1995, compared with disease burden during the prevaccine era.
  • In 1990, the World Summit for Children adopted a goal of vaccinating 90% of children against measles by 2000.
  • Regional measles-elimination goals have been established in the American Region (AMR) by 2000, the European Region (EUR) by 2007, and the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) by 2010.
  • A regional measles-elimination goals have been established in the Western Pacific (WPR) by 2012.
  • In 2012, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Vaccine Action Plan with the objective to eliminate measles in four World Health Organization (WHO) regions by 2015 – the Region of the Americas, EUR, EMR, and WPR.
  • Countries in all six WHO regions have adopted goals for measles elimination by 2020.

Obviously, we haven’t hit all of the goals and deadlines on time.

What have we done?

We have tremendously reduced the number of children who get measles and who die with measles. For example, instead of meeting the 2010 goals of decreasing global measles mortality by 90% over 2000 levels, we have decreased it by 74%. The world has gone from an estimated 100 million cases and 5.8 million deaths in 1980 and an estimated 44 million cases and 1.1 million deaths in 1995 to “just” 7 million cases and 89,780 deaths in 2016.

There is still some work to be done though, especially with the uptick in cases and deaths in the last few years.

“Eradication of both measles and rubella is considered to be feasible, beneficial, and more cost-effective than high-level control.”

Orenstein et al on Measles and Rubella Global Strategic Plan 2012–2020 midterm review report: Background and summary

Work that we can still do if everyone makes the commitment to implement their elimination plans.

And folks vaccinate and protect their kids!

What’s the alternative?

To go back to when even more kids got sick and died with measles?

More on Eradicating Measles

Remembering When Everyone Had Measles

In the pre-vaccine era, everyone got measles.

What was that like?

Remembering When Everyone Had Measles

Although the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an improved version wasn't available until 1968.
Although the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an improved version wasn’t available until 1968.

Well, for one thing, before we had a measles vaccine, having measles was considered a rite of passage for kids, but only because they had no choice except to eventually get it!

And when measles came to town, as it inevitably did, most folks got it, leading to missing weeks of school, play, and work, etc.

But it wasn’t all fun and games.

At best, measles left you feeling miserable.

Tragically for some, they didn’t survive having measles.

“Before a vaccine became available in 1963, measles was a rite of passage among American children. A red rash would spread over their bodies. They would develop a high fever. Severe cases could cause blindness or brain damage, or even death.”

CDC says measles almost eliminated in U.S.

It should be clear that when measles was everywhere and everyone had measles, it could affect every aspect of your life.

Quarantines for measles were once very common, although everyone still ended up getting measles eventually.
Quarantines for measles were once very common, although everyone still ended up getting measles eventually.
In 1959, the Los Angeles Times reported that 80% of the kids in this school’s lower grades would be absent in an outbreak that had been ongoing since the previous month
Could you imagine your child’s college shutting down for two weeks because kids were getting sick? This was in 1956.
If measles was so mild, why were colleges shutting down for two weeks?
Quarantines were common to control outbreaks in 1949.
Too bad they didn’t have laptops in 1947, although even if they did, Will Jones would have been too sick to have worked from home when he had measles…
Remember the Lassie episode when Timmie had measles...
Remember the Lassie episode when Timmie had measles… When everyone got measles, measles was every were, even on TV.
Delaying a movie isn’t so bad…
But what about almost delaying a trip to the moon? Remember Apollo 13?
Measles deaths were common in 1952.

When everyone got measles, everyone had problems with measles.

We know what happens when immunization rates drop…

That’s why most of us are very glad to vaccinate and protect our kids. We don’t want them to get measles or any other vaccine-preventable diseases.

More on Remembering When Everyone Had Measles

Remembering Measles

I don’t remember treating any kids with measles in medical school or residency.

We certainly saw a lot of other now vaccine-preventable diseases when I was in training, from rotavirus and pneumococcal disease to meningococcal disease.

“When I graduated from medical school, many of the current vaccines were either not yet invented or just beginning to be widely used. I still remember what health care was like in the pre-vaccine era, and I remember that there seemed to be at least one child in each neighborhood who spent much of her life in an iron lung because of polio. As a young resident in pediatrics, I heard, on the whooping-cough ward, the coughing and choking of children with pneumonia. I remember the brain damage from encephalitis caused by measles, and the birth defects of babies whose mothers had had German measles during pregnancy. In my first years in pediatric practice, I remember making hospital rounds every morning and treating children with meningitis, and complications of chicken pox and other illnesses that have been either eliminated or lessened in severity by the widespread use of vaccines. Also, I remember more than a decade ago when Great Britain temporarily stopped the routine use of the DTP vaccine because of a reaction scare (which later turned out to be a false alarm) and consequently suffered a resurgence of whooping cough. Because of my “historical” perspective, I have grown to appreciate the value of vaccines as a necessary public-health measure. Currently in our pediatric practice, we follow the vaccine schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

Dr. William Sears on Ask Dr. Sears: Vaccination/Immunization Concerns

But I trained in the post-elimination era for measles.

Remembering Measles

Although some folks only seem to have the Brady Bunch to use as a guide, fortunately there are many other ways to discover what measles used to be like.

I asked some of my old instructors…

“Typical case of measles – a couple days of high fever, with a sick (miserable) looking kid with running nose, bad cough, and red eyes. You can see Koplik’s spots if you know to look for them on the buccal mucosa (I describe them as grains of salts on red tablecloth). Fever gets higher and rash appears at peak of fever (day 3-4). The rash disappears with a brawny hyperpigmented appearance. The child frequently gets diagnosed with an ear infection. If no complications (ear infection or pneumonia), recovery is quick once the fever resolves, but these kids look really sick, miserable, and sad during the acute phase. They have a measly look.”

Jeed Gan, MD

After reading that account, I’m glad my kids are all vaccinated and protected and hopefully won’t ever get measles, as it sounds horrible.

Although I have never seen it, I can certainly imagine that measly look…

A child with measles and four days of the classic measles rash.
A child with measles and four days of the classic measles rash. Photo by CDC/NIP/ Barbara Rice

What else can you imagine?

“I’ve often called measles ‘the harmless killer’ because, although most youngsters recover uneventfully, the disease a certain amount of really serious damage.”

Dr. Joseph Molner

Can you imagine intentionally leaving your kids unvaccinated and at risk of a harmless killer disease?

In this 1959 article in the Madera Tribune, Dr. Bundesen warns parents to take measles seriously.
In this 1959 article in the Madera Tribune, Dr. Bundesen warns parents to take measles seriously.

It is important to note that even a “mild” attack included a fever that could hit 104F or higher and, altogether the symptoms could last up to 12 days, as the cough often lingers after the rash has cleared up.

Measles is definitely contagious.
Measles is definitely contagious.

And in the pre-vaccine era, everyone ended up having measles, as it was so contagious.

Not everyone survived having measles though.

Even after improved sanitation and hygiene dropped mortality rates for measles and other diseases in the early part of the 20th Century, a lot of kids still died with measles.
Even after improved sanitation and hygiene dropped mortality rates for measles and other diseases in the early part of the 20th Century, a lot of kids still died with measles.

It was once well known that measles was not always so easy on kids.

1953 medical advice column
1953 medical advice column

Why have so many folks forgotten that fact?

Do you think that a 106F fever comes with a mild disease?
Do you think that a 106F fever comes with a mild disease?

Is it because vaccines work so well that we don’t see or hear about measles that much anymore?

Kids with measles feel awful.

At least we don’t hear about them until immunization rates drop and we start having more and more outbreaks.

Is that what it’s going to take to get you to vaccinate your kids? An outbreak in your city? Your child’s school? Or are you going to wait until your kids get sick?

More on Remembering Measles

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Measles?

The first measles vaccine was developed in 1963 and its use led to a quick drop in measles cases in the United States.

In fact, as most people know, the endemic spread of measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000.

What does that mean?

A typical case of measles, as described in 1920, doesn't sound very mild or marvelous as some folks claim it to be.
A typical case of measles, as described in 1920, doesn’t sound very mild or marvelous as some folks claim it to be.

For one thing, it means that many people in the United States have never actually seen anyone with measles.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Measles?

As we are seeing more and more measles cases each year, it makes it important for everyone to learn how to recognize what measles looks like. Measles is so contagious, that missing just one case can lead to a lot of other people getting exposed unnecessarily and can keep an outbreak going.

So what does measles look like?

Call before you go to the ER or to see your doctor if you think your child has measles so that you don't put others at risk.
Call before you go to the ER or to see your doctor if you think your child has measles so that you don’t put others at risk.

After being exposed, kids with measles will develop:

  • a high fever
  • cough and/or runny nose
  • red, watery eyes with photophobia (dislike of bright light)
  • sore throat
  • irritability
  • decreased appetite

That sounds like many other viral infections that kids get though, which is why measles is so hard to diagnose, at least at the beginning stages of the illness, when kids only have the first signs of measles – the fever, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis.

Koplik spots, small gray-white spots in your mouth, are another clue that a child might have measles. They can develop on the second or third day of fever.

Next, after having the high fever for 3 to 5 days, kids develop a worsening fever and the classic measles rash. It is important to note that you are contagious well before you get the rash though, up to about four days before the rash develops, providing plenty of chances to expose others before you ever know you have measles.

“It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body.”

Measles Signs and Symptoms

While many diseases have a fever with or followed by a rash, it is very characteristic of measles that the fever continues for a few more days as the child develops the rash.

“You’ll usually feel most ill on the first or second day after the rash develops.”

Measles Symptoms

This is when most kids get diagnosed, typically with laboratory confirmation.

Unfortunately, because of the high fever and irritability, they may have sought medical attention a few times and could have exposed a lot of people already, especially as you continue to be contagious until you have had the rash for at least four days.

“After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades.”

Measles Signs and Symptoms

All together, these classic measles symptoms typically last about a week. As the rash fades, parents might notice staining and then a fine desquamation (skin peeling).

Of course, if any complications develop, the symptoms can last much longer.

What complications? Remember, measles was once called a harmless killer

Complications of measles can include:

  • ear infections
  • diarrhea
  • croup
  • pneumonia
  • seizures
  • encephalitis
  • myocarditis

And tragically, some kids don’t survive having measles.

“Furthermore, the risk of contracting other infections or dying remains high for several months after recovery from acute measles infection.”

Treating Measles in Children

And although most do survive the acute infection, we know that these kids are still at risk for getting other infections in the next few months and are at a later risk for SSPE.

Get vaccinated. Stop the outbreaks. There is no good reason that our kids should have to get measles today.

More on the Signs and Symptoms of Measles

Is H1N1 Flu Back This Year?

You remember H1N1 flu, right?

Is it back this year?

Is H1N1 Flu Back This Year?

While H1N1 seems to be the most frequently identified influenza virus type this year, in reality, since causing the “swine flu” pandemic in 2009, this strain of flu virus never really went away.

It instead became a seasonal flu virus strains.

So it is back again this year, but just like it was back during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 flu seasons.

Is that good news or bad news?

In general, it’s good news, as “flu vaccines provide better protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses than against influenza A (H3N2) viruses.”

“The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (referred to as “swine flu” early on) was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that its gene segments were similar to influenza viruses that were most recently identified in and known to circulate among pigs. CDC believes that this virus resulted from reassortment, a process through which two or more influenza viruses can swap genetic information by infecting a single human or animal host. When reassortment does occur, the virus that emerges will have some gene segments from each of the infecting parent viruses and may have different characteristics than either of the parental viruses, just as children may exhibit unique characteristics that are like both of their parents. In this case, the reassortment appears most likely to have occurred between influenza viruses circulating in North American pig herds and among Eurasian pig herds. Reassortment of influenza viruses can result in abrupt, major changes in influenza viruses, also known as “antigenic shift.” When shift happens, most people have little or no protection against the new influenza virus that results.”

Origin of 2009 H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu): Questions and Answers

The only reason we were so concerned about this strain of H1N1 in 2009 was because it was new.

Still, even in a good year, it is important to remember that a lot of people die with the flu, including a lot of kids. And most of them are unvaccinated.

So while it might be interesting to talk about which flu virus strain is going around, just remember that your best protection against that strain is a yearly flu vaccine.

More on H1N1 Flu

Can I Get a Second Flu Shot for Extra Protection?

If one flu shot is good, wouldn’t two be better?

Can I Get a Second Flu Shot for Extra Protection?

Some people do get a second flu shot.

In fact, all kids eight years and younger, if it is their first time getting a flu vaccine, get two doses of flu vaccine.

How many doses of flu vaccine will your kids need this year?
How many doses of flu vaccine will your kids need this year?

The first dose is a priming dose and the second, at least 28 days later, is a booster dose.

Why do we do it that way?

Because studies have shown that is the best way to do it.

We don’t need to use this same priming/booster strategy in older children and adults though.

But with recent talk that protection against the flu after a flu vaccine might wane before the end of a flu season, some folks are likely wondering if they should just get another flu shot later in the season.

“Revaccination later in the season of persons who have already been fully vaccinated is not recommended.”

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

And the official answer is no, except for younger children getting vaccinated for the first time, you should just get one dose per season.

Why not?

Mostly because a lot of studies haven’t been done to see what effect that second dose will have. And since some studies have even suggested that regular annual flu vaccines could actually lower vaccine effectiveness, you would want to know if getting an extra flu vaccine was safe and effective before we started to do it.

Not surprisingly, someone has looked into this already. One small study, Influenza revaccination of elderly travelers: antibody response to single influenza vaccination and revaccination at 12 weeks, actually showed that a second dose in the same season “did not enhance the immune response.”

So just one flu vaccine per season.

“Prior-season vaccination history was not associated with reduced vaccine effectiveness in children, supporting current recommendations for annual influenza vaccination of children.”

McLean et al on Association of Prior Vaccination With Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness in Children Receiving Live Attenuated or Inactivated Vaccine

But do get a flu vaccine every season.

Again, while there were some reports that an annual flu vaccine could lower vaccine effectiveness, other studies have disproven this.

More on Getting a Second Flu Shot

Is This Year’s Flu Vaccine Working?

Breaking News – Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness have now been released (see below)

Flu season is just getting started, but I’m sure that you have already heard folks rating how well this year’s flu shots are working.

Are flu vaccines working well?
Are flu vaccines working well?

Of course, if you had a flu shot and have already gotten the flu, then you’re gonna think the flu shot isn’t working very well at all.

And if you are vaccinated and protected and have avoided the flu, then it is working so far, right?

Is This Year’s Flu Vaccine Working?

While we won’t know how well this year’s flu vaccine is working until the CDC releases the preliminary estimates on flu vaccine effectiveness, there are some good signs already.

  1. The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States so far have been “characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2018–2019 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”
  2. The most frequently identified influenza virus type reported by public health laboratories was influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 virus.

Remember, to be effective, you want the flu vaccine to match the strains of flu virus that are circulating in the community. A mismatch in flu virus strain or antigenic drifting leads to lower flu vaccine effectiveness (VE).

Remember the 2004-05 flu season? That was the year that because of a drifted A(H3N2) virus, “only 5% of viruses from study participants were well matched to vaccine strains.” And the flu vaccine wasn’t very effective at all.

Still, even when the flu vaccine matches circulating strains, in general, as we have certainly seen, “flu vaccines provide better protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses than against influenza A (H3N2) viruses.”

YearFlu Virus StrainVE
2004-05A(H3N2)10
2005-06A(H3N2)21
2006-07A(H1N1)52
2007-08A(H3N2)37
2008-09A(H1N1)41
2009-10A(H1N1)pdm0956
2010-11A(H3N2)60
2011-12A(H3N2)47
2012-13A(H3N2)49
2013-14A(H1N1)pdm0952
2014-15A(H3N2)19
2015-16A(H1N1)pdm0948
2016-17A(H3N2)40
2017-18A(H3N2)40
2018-19A(H1N1)pdm0947

So if you had to guess, you could probably say that this year’s flu vaccine is going to be at least 50% effective.

So just as good as flipping a coin? Not exactly.

There are a lot of benefits to getting a flu shot besides avoiding the flu, like avoiding severe flu, hospitalization, and death.

And since flu vaccines are safe and flu can be a life-threatening disease, even in those without any medical problems, wouldn’t you take any chance you could to reduce your child’s chances of getting sick?

When will we know how well this year’s flu vaccine is really working?

The CDC typically releases the first preliminary flu vaccine effectiveness report of the season in February.

Not that you should wait! Flu season is well underway and this is a great time to get a flu vaccine and get protected for the rest of flu season.

Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness

On schedule, the CDC has released this year’s Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness.

During this period, overall adjusted vaccine effectiveness against all influenza virus infection associated with medically attended ARI was 47% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 34%–57%). For children aged 6 months–17 years, overall vaccine effectiveness was 61% (44%–73%).

Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2019

That’s certainly better than we have seen in recent years.

More on the Effectiveness of This Year’s Flu Vaccine

Updated February 15, 2019