Tag: measles myths

Misinformation About Measles Outbreaks in Texas

Like everywhere else, measles has been on the rise in Texas. And like everywhere else, we have also seen a rise in misinformation about measles and measles outbreaks in Texas.

Why do these folks push misinformation about measles?
Why do these folks push misinformation about measles? #JustAsking

Only three were unvaccinated? Is that true?

Misinformation About Measles Outbreaks in Texas

Actually, when you look at the official statistics, you find that there were only three cases that were known to be fully vaccinated!

Only three of the cases were known to be fully vaccinated and protected against measles!
Only three of the cases were known to be fully vaccinated!

While it is true that only three were known to be fully unvaccinated, there are another five people with unknown status who might also be fully unvaccinated.

And then there are those who are partially vaccinated, with just one dose of MMR. As most folks know, two doses of MMR provide the best protection against measles. Six more of the cases are known to have had just one dose of MMR and another four had an unknown number of doses, so could have been partially vaccinated.

And again, there are the five with unknown status. While it is possible that they were fully vaccinated, or had one dose, it is also very likely that they were unvaccinated.

What can we say for sure?

The claim that “Only THREE out of the twenty-one cases were unvaccinated individuals” in the Texas measles outbreaks isn’t true.

You could just as easily say that “Only THREE out of the twenty-one cases were known to be fully vaccinated individuals.” And at least that statement would be truthful, as it includes the caveat that you are only talking about those with known immunization status…

Were any of the cases in children attending school with an exemption?

At least nine of the cases were in children, but there haven’t been any media reports of outbreaks or exposures in schools, so I am guessing not.

That’s lucky!

Some schools in Texas have very high rates of vaccine exemptions and a case of measles could lead to a big outbreak.

More on the Measles Outbreaks in Texas

The Myth That Measles Never Left

Measles cases are on the rise. Where? Pretty much everywhere. But some folks are still pushing the myth that measles never left.

The highest number of measles cases in over 25 years? Don't call it a comeback?
Don’t call it a comeback? Cases in the US average 283 cases per year over the past 12 years (if you don’t skip 2019…)

It is easy to see that measles myth, like most AV myths, isn’t true.

The Myth That Measles Never Left

In the pre-vaccine era, everyone would get measles.

That translates into about 500,000 reported cases each year. Technically, it was likely closer to about 4 million cases in the United States each year, but either way, we know that lots of people got measles.

Then we got a measles vaccine and not surprisingly, cases of measles dropped. Except for a small uptick from 1989 to 1991, we were on our way to eliminating measles.

And we did, in 2000, when the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in the United States. From then on, all measles cases were imported.

In 2004, we had an historic low of just 37 measles cases in the United States!

Will we ever have fewer than 37 cases in a year?
Will we ever have fewer than 37 cases in a year?

And from 2000 to 2012, we averaged just 87 measles cases each year, which is far below the US average of 283 cases we are now seeing.

No, measles never completely left. It was not eradicated.

But it is certainly making a comeback and soaring to levels that we haven’t seen since 1992!

Just think about it… We had 37 cases of measles in 2004 and this year, we often had 37 cases in a single week!

Get vaccinated and protected so that you don’t get caught up in the next outbreak.

More on Measles Cases

Did Pediatricians Ever Encourage Parents to Have Measles Parties?

While the idea of chickenpox and measles parties now seems ridiculous to most people, in the pre-vaccine era, it might not have been so strange. Since getting these diseases was inevitable, it might make some sense to try and control when your kids got sick. Did did pediatricians actually encourage parents to have measles parties?

Did Pediatricians Ever Encourage Parents to Have Measles Parties?

Some folks think they have evidence that they did!

This is not evidence for measles parties...
This is not evidence for measles parties…

Wait, did they really have measles?

As most folks know, German measles is another name for rubella or 3-day measles.
As most folks know, German measles is another name for rubella or 3-day measles.

Not exactly…

These kids had German measles – better known as rubella. Of course, that is not the same thing as measles or rubeola.

Measles vs Rubella

Why do we worry about rubella? Unlike measles, it’s not because it can make kids very sick, but rather because if a pregnant woman gets rubella, then it can be devastating for their baby.

The idea for rubella parties started in the UK in the 1950s.
The idea for rubella parties started in the UK in the 1950s.

That’s why some folks tried to get rubella when they were kids, well before they reached the age when they could become pregnant.

How did that strategy work out?

Many articles advocating for rubella parties (German measles) appeared in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Of course, those rubella parties didn’t prevent the rubella epidemics that came in 1964-65 and caused 12.5 million rubella virus infections and “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome.”

In addition to spreading rubella to pregnant women, at these parties, younger children could get exposed to other diseases that are more serious, like measles.
In addition to spreading rubella to pregnant women, at these parties, younger children could get exposed to other diseases that are more serious, like measles.

It was the rubella vaccine that was developed in 1969 that helped control and eventually eliminate rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in the United States. And eliminated all of the risks of the measles parties that some folks used to have.

More on Measles Parties

When is Measles Season?

For a while, especially once we eliminated the endemic spread of measles, we weren’t thinking about measles seasons anymore.

In addition to the recent rise in measles cases, this slide shows the patterns of measles seasons in different parts of the world.
In addition to the recent rise in measles cases, this slide shows the patterns of measles seasons in different parts of the world.

Unfortunately, with ongoing outbreaks and rising cases, many people are asking again – just when is measles season?

When is Measles Season?

Traditionally, the time when measles case counts are the highest occurs:

  • during the late winter and early spring (temperate climates, like the United States)
  • after the rainy season (tropical climates)
  • when kids are in school

So just like flu season, it’s always measles season somewhere…

And in areas of the world where measles is still highly endemic, you can expect cycles of larger measles epidemics every 1 to 4 years.

Can you guess why?

“As higher uniform population immunity is achieved the scale of epidemics, both their duration and absolute number of cases, progressively decreases. Epidemic frequency simultaneously decreases with increasing time intervals between epidemics. Another uniform feature as elimination is approached is the loss of epidemic seasonality.”

Durrheim et al on Measles – The epidemiology of elimination

I’ll give you a hint – there is nothing different about the measles virus during those years.

Eventually though, as the number of people susceptible to measles builds up, there is the opportunity for bigger outbreaks. Of course, that doesn’t happen if most people are vaccinated and protected.

When is Measles Season in the United States?

What about in the United States in the post-vaccine era?

Visiting a place with a lot of measles, especially if you aren't vaccinated and protected, increases the risk that you will bring measles home with you and start an outbreak.
Visiting a place with a lot of measles, especially if you aren’t vaccinated and protected, increases the risk that you will bring measles home with you and start an outbreak.

We don’t really have a measles season, as all of our cases are now imported from other parts of the world.

  1. Where and when are folks traveling?
  2. Where is measles on the rise?

That’s when we will see more measles cases here.

“Source countries included Philippines (14 cases), Ukraine (8), Israel (5), Thailand (3), Vietnam (2), Germany (2), and one importation each from Algeria, France, India, Lithuania, Russia, and the United Kingdom.”

Increase in Measles Cases — United States, January 1–April 26, 2019

In the early part of 2019, we saw a lot of cases because unvaccinated travelers were returning from Philippines, Ukraine, and Israel, countries in peak measles season.

Are Europe's measles outbreaks slowing down yet?
Are Europe’s measles outbreaks slowing down yet?

As cases in those countries hopefully slow down over the summer, unfortunately, we might see a rise in other parts of the world.

Of course, there is an easy way to end our measles seasons once and for all.

Two doses of MMR is your best protection against measles.

Get vaccinated and protected, especially before traveling out of the country.

More on Measles Season?