Many news organizations ran with a story about a multi-state measles outbreak recently.
They got something wrong though.
There is no ongoing, single, multi-state outbreak of measles this year.
Fake News About Measles Outbreaks?
Is it understandable that some media outlets would have been confused by recent CDC reports?
The CDC Measles Cases and Outbreaks page hadn’t been updated since late-July and is still reporting case numbers that are “current as of July 14, 2018,” so there really was no recent CDC report to generate all of this extra attention.
“From January 1 to July 14, 2018, 107 people from 21 states (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington) and the District of Colombia were reported to have measles.”
CDC on Measles Cases and Outbreaks
Although it has been changed to say “107 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 21 states,” there was nothing to indicate it was a single outbreak that the CDC was monitoring as many sites reported:
NBC2 – Measles outbreak spreads to 21 states, infecting more than 100 people
Unfortunately, many of these reports are still online.
How did it happen?
It’s likely because you have reports from organizations and websites that seem to want to push out content, but don’t have much of a budget to pay health or medical writers to make sure it is accurate.
2018 Measles Cases and Outbreaks
It’s also unfortunate that some of these sites, in trying to correct the idea of a single, nation-wide outbreak, are now trying to minimize this year’s measles outbreaks.
No, there isn’t one large outbreak that is spreading across the United States, but there are a lot of smaller outbreaks, some of which are still ongoing.
And these outbreaks are not something that should still be expected, as we have had a safe and effective measles vaccine for over 50 years and measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000!
There is also something very much different about 2018, that not surprisingly, no one is reporting about.
With over 107 cases, things seem very similar to last year right, when we had about 118 cases?
She even defends Andrew Wakefield and doesn’t believe that people died of measles once MMR vaccination rates went down after Wakefield’s study was published.
A Crazymother Visits Her Pediatrician to Talk About Vaccines
As someone who is mindful that language can promote stigmas and stereotypes, it is not a term that I chose.
It is the name of a parenting group.
Wait until you hear what this pediatrician has to say when a Crazymother informs her she will no longer be vaccinating!
“Ok, today is just a hepatitis vaccine.”
I have made the decision that I no longer want my kids to be vaccinated.
At all. So, I know that’s not what you want to hear.
“It isn’t. It scares me. It scares me a lot.”
I know. I hear that, but I also have to do what I feel is best.
“Is there a specific concern that you have?”
Oh, there is a lot of things.
“What are they?”
There’s a lot. I’m worried about a lot. I wasn’t planning on having this conversation today. I didn’t know he was getting a shot. I wasn’t prepared. I thought he coming in for a blood test today. There’s a lot of reached out and met a lot of other moms who just have a lot of really sad stories and I just kind of started doing my own research and I just don’t feel like it is best for my kids and … I’m very concerned for his health and him getting vaccinated with all of these problems that he already has isn’t going to benefit him right now so I may change my mind down the road.
That last paragraph says an awful lot about why some parents are choosing to delay or skip their children’s vaccines:
“So my job at every visit is to let you know what you are declining and what we’re trying to protect against. It’s also very important if you decide not to immunize to remember that he’s at risk for a lot of other things so if he gets a fever its going to mean something different to mean than a child who is fully immunized as a fever… so if you call us after hours and he has a fever, make sure you tell us, oh by the way, he isn’t immunized…”
How does it mean something different if a child is intentionally not vaccinated?
While a vaccine-preventable disease should be in the back of your mind for any kid if their symptoms fit the disease, since vaccines aren’t 100% effective, they move higher up your list of possibilities if you know the child is unvaccinated and unprotected.
“I also just want to tell you that there’s a very big difference between anecdotal evidence and population based evidence, so just because someone has a sad story doesn’t mean that what happened to them is truly related to the vaccine.”
Crazymothers – OMG, I can’t even with this… She said that children didn’t get the MMR and many died. That’s not true. If you look at the cases of measles after 1998 when the Lancet study was published the measles cases actually went down. Nobody died. Nobody has died in America for years and years from the measles. It is completely silly.
Measles cases went down?
“Between 2001 and 2013 there was a sharp rise in the number of UK measles cases, and three people died.”
Current measles risks in the UK and Europe
As most folks now, before Wakefield was stripped of his medical license, he practiced in the United Kingdom, and not surprisingly, that’s where we saw a big effect on MMR rates. They went down and measles cases went up.
But even as measles cases and deaths have gone down globally, measles outbreaks and measles deaths have been much worse in the rest of Europe.
Even in the United States, cases have gone way up since we hit a record low of 37 cases in 2004 and there have been deaths, with the last in 2015.
“Again, this was very contentious and you would not get consensus from all members of the group on this, but that is my feeling, that the, the risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.”
It is amazing how many times you hear the phrase “that’s not true” in this video about things that are so easy to confirm as facts.
“Continue to give it some thought because to me vaccines are modern miracles and it scares me to death to have people not getting vaccinated… He’ll probably be okay, but that’s because I’ve vaccinated my kids the other day, so we’re protecting your kid… The more people who stop doing it, forget about it, it’s going to go back to the old days where people are dying all of the time.”
Crazymothers – There’s that herd immunity myth. She says that your kid is going to be okay because I’m doing the right thing. I’m vaccinating my child. And anybody who studies this knows that’s not true! Herd immunity is a myth. Go outside and talk to a 30-year-old, 40-year-old, 50-year-old, who hasn’t been recently vaccinated and you can clearly see, plain as day…
As far as I know, we have indoor plumbing, we have sewage systems, we have clean water, and we have access to whole foods, we have ways to supplement with vitamins and minerals, we have all of these amazing things and that is what actually brings disease rates down.
Proper sanitation, sewage systems, all of the modern things that we take for granted – that is what is actually bringing the disease down, because clearly, in under-developed countries, we still see the diseases rampant, right?
But herd immunity is disease specific, so when we talk about herd immunity for measles, it doesn’t matter if someone has immunity against hepatitis A or Hib. Also, some vaccines, like Hib and Prevnar, have indirect effects, protecting adults even though they aren’t vaccinated, because vaccinated kids are less likely to become infectious.
There is only clearly one modern thing that that anti-vaccine folks take for granted – vaccines.
My uncle got polio around 1950, in Brooklyn, just before the first polio vaccine was developed.
You know what?
They had indoor plumbing, sewage systems, clean water, whole foods, vitamins and minerals, and medicine – he was hospitalized for six months – yet many people still died of polio.
At that time, during the pre-vaccine era, many people also died of measles, tetanus, pertussis, chicken pox, and many other diseases that are now prevented with vaccines.
And unfortunately, many under-developed countries still don’t have proper sanitation, sewage systems, or good nutrition, but do you know what they also don’t have?
We are very close to eradicating polio all over the world. Only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan still have cases of wild polio today. And so far this year, there have only been 11 cases. Did every other country in the world suddenly get proper sanitation, sewage systems, and good nutrition? Is that why we are so close to eradicating polio?
Of course not. It’s the polio vaccine.
Vaccines work. Vaccines are safe and necessary. They have few risks and many benefits. You won’t learn any of that from the Crazymothers group and that’s likely why you have made the decision that you no longer want your kids to be vaccinated.
What to Know About Crazymothers Propaganda
Don’t let Crazymothers propaganda scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids.
Wait, why would anyone think that the polio vaccine could be linked to outbreaks of hand, foot, and mouth disease?
“Scientific researchers have discovered that the infectious disease Hand,Foot and Mouth Disease is vaccine-induced and then spread to others through shedding from the Polio Vaccine. Enterovirus 71 (EV71) causes Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. The polio vaccine (OPV and IPV) is contaminated with EV71. It, along with EV-D68 and several other enteroviruses and coxsackie viruses are used in the manufacturing of the polio vaccines, which are given to children three times in the first year of life, and again between 4-6 years of life. Bottom line: children recently vaccinated with the polio vaccine are shedding the EV71 that causes the most serious complications of HFMD. ”
Is the Polio Vaccine Linked to Outbreaks of Hand Foot Mouth Disease?
Health Freedom Idaho makes some very serious claims and even links to a research article, which in most cases, you would expect to support their claims.
Not surprisingly, the article, A Dominant EV71-Specific CD4+ T Cell Epitope Is Highly Conserved among Human Enteroviruses, says absolutely nothing about contamination of vaccines and nothing about shedding.
“Recognizing disingenuous claims made by the anti-vaccination movement is essential in order to critically evaluate the information and misinformation encountered online.”
Anna Kata Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm – An overview of tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement
What about a link between polio vaccines and hand, foot, and mouth disease?
Well, hand, foot, and mouth disease is typically caused by the coxsackievirus A16 and EV71, which are enteroviruses. So is the polio virus. In fact, the Enterovirus genus is made up of 15 different species and 100s of different viruses. And they are all in the same Picornavirus family.
And that’s likely why researchers have found that “the most dominant epitope is highly conserved among enterovirus species, including HFMD-related coxsackieviruses, HFMD-unrelated echoviruses and polioviruses.”
“An epitope refers to the specific target against which an individual antibody binds.”
What is an Epitope?
So basically, this research isn’t saying that the polio vaccines are contaminated or that they cause hand, foot, mouth disease.
What it is saying, is that if you have been vaccinated with the polio vaccine, then you might have some protection against other enteroviruses!
“As shown here, poliovirus vaccination may have an impact on subsequent severity of HFMD disease. Cross-reactivity between EV71 A3 epitope and the A3v epitope of poliovirus 3 Sabin strain, may lead to the stimulation of protective, cross-reactive T cell responses, limiting the severity of subsequent HFMD.”
Wei et al. on A Dominant EV71-Specific CD4+ T Cell Epitope Is Highly Conserved among Human Enteroviruses
Yay for cross-reactivity!
“Cross-reactivity between antigens occurs when an antibody directed against one specific antigen is successful in binding with another, different antigen. The two antigens in question have similar three-dimensional structural regions, known as epitopes, which allow the antibody for one antigen to recognize a second antigen as being structurally the same antigen.”
Stephen J. Chadwick, MD
So you get antibodies from the polio vaccine and these antibodies cross react with the viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease, which could lead to milder symptoms, because it is like you already have some antibodies to that virus too!
“HFMD outbreaks could occur where polio vaccination has failed, due to lack of refrigeration or other breaks in the cold chain that (might) go unreported.”
Exploring the Link between Polio Vaccination and Hand Foot Mouth Disease
In China, where outbreaks of hand, foot, and mouth disease are much more severe than they are in the United States, often leading to life-threatening disease, there has been a concern that the increased number of outbreaks could be linked to a failure of their polio vaccines, since getting vaccinated could be protective.
That’s the link the research is talking about…
I actually asked one of the researchers about what anti-vaccine folks were saying about their study and they told me:
“Well, that’s actually totally backwards. Our article suggests that FAILURE to get vaccinated with polio vaccine might set you up for Hand Food Mouth disease (EV71).”
Bottom line: polio vaccines are not contaminated and children recently vaccinated with the polio vaccine are not shedding the EV71 that causes the most serious complications of HFMD. Health Freedom Idaho made the whole thing up.
More on Linking the Polio Vaccine to Hand Foot Mouth Disease
Anti-vaccine folks often claim that health officials only worry about measles and measles outbreaks.
They can’t understand why anyone gets concerned by a few measles cases here and there, not understanding that a lot of work goes into containing measles outbreaks and making sure that they don’t grow beyond a few cases.
We do get concerned about measles outbreaks though.
“Whenever measles strikes, it’s more than just an outbreak of a single disease, or an indication that children aren’t receiving their measles shots; it’s also a warning that immunization coverage in general, for all vaccine-preventable diseases, is lower than it should be.
To put it another way: When rates of routine vaccination—children receiving all their shots on schedule, as a preventive measure rather than a reaction to an outbreak—start to fall, the first sign is usually a measles outbreak.”
Seth Berkley on Measles Outbreaks Are a Sign of Bigger Problems
The measles vaccine is among the most effective vaccines we have, so if we are seeing outbreaks, even though measles is very contagious, it means there is a problem.
“A focus on measles surveillance can help detect populations unreached by immunization systems and, by extension, program weaknesses. Measles serves as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for detecting problems with immunization programs, a characteristic whose importance has recently been highlighted in the context of global health security.”
Orenstein et al on Measles and Rubella Global Strategic Plan 2012–2020 midterm review
As much as anti-vaccine folks like to try and minimize how serious measles can be, it is easy to see that measles is indeed a serious, life-threatening disease. We had good nutrition, proper sanitation, and modern health care in 1990, and still, a lot of people died with measles. Rates of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a late complication of measles, went up too, in the years after these outbreaks.
“Measles is a wholly preventable disease, and it was almost eradicated from the country in 1983, when only 1,497 cases were reported. But by 1990, after Federal budget cuts and the end of the Government’s monitoring of immunization programs, more than 30,000 cases of measles and more than 60 deaths were reported.”
Panel Ties Measles Epidemic to Breakdown in Health System
Those outbreaks were fixed, as we improved access to help kids get vaccinated and protected. Unfortunately, the issue with outbreaks today isn’t about access to vaccines, at least not in the developed world. It is about parents intentionally skipping or delaying vaccines.
More than 10 years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a position paper stating that “aluminum is now being implicated as interfering with a variety of cellular and metabolic processes in the nervous system and in other tissues.”
Lawrence Palevsky, MD on Aluminum: The New Mercury?
Palevsky wasn’t the only doc to try and shift parents’ fears onto aluminum.
He wasn’t even the first to make it sound like the AAP had been warning about aluminum for years and years.
Bob Sears, MD seems to have that honor with his 2008 article in Mothering Magazine, Is Aluminum the New Thimerosal?.
“As a medical doctor, my first instinct was to worry that these aluminum levels far exceed what may be safe for babies. My second instinct was to assume that the issue had been properly researched, and that studies had been done on healthy infants to determine their ability to rapidly excrete aluminum. My third instinct was to search for these studies. So far, I have found none. It’s likely the FDA thinks that the kidneys of healthy infants work well enough to excrete aluminum before it can circulate through the body, accumulate in the brain, and cause toxic effects. However, I can find no references in FDA documents that show that using aluminum in vaccines has been tested and found to be safe.”
Bob Sears, MD
Unlike Dr. Bob, my first instinct when faced with a situation like this is to look to someone with a little more expertise before scaring folks away from vaccinating and protecting their kids. And do you know what all of those experts say – aluminum salts in vaccines are safe.
That’s not surprising, because just about everything Dr. Bob warned about and somehow equated with vaccines, was really about premature neonates and infants getting daily intravenous fluids and IV feeding solutions over prolonged periods of time, especially premature neonates and infants with impaired kidney function. Although aluminum toxicity wasn’t thought to be a common problem, even in these situations, it was thought to be enough of a risk that doctors were warned about it, and TPN fluid was limited to no more than 25 micrograms per liter of aluminum.
And that’s why the AAP had issued their position paper.
Now, would a premature baby getting IVF or an IV feeding solution containing aluminum every day for several weeks or months ever really be thought of as being at the same risk as an infant who gets a few aluminum salt containing vaccines at their well checkups?
No, it is clearly not the same thing.
“We conclude that episodic exposures to vaccines that contain aluminum adjuvant continue to be extremely low risk to infants and that the benefits of using vaccines containing aluminum adjuvant outweigh any theoretical concerns.”
Mitkus et al on Updated aluminum pharmacokinetics following infant exposures through diet and vaccination.
And not surprisingly, the aluminum salts that kids get in vaccines have been shown to be safe.
“Importantly, aluminum has a good safety record in which reported adverse events have been limited to acute local reactions.”
Glanz et al. on Cumulative and episodic vaccine aluminum exposure in a population-based cohort of young children.
Don’t believe the new anti-vaccine propaganda about aluminum and don’t let it scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids.
“We found no evidence that aluminium salts in vaccines cause any serious or long-lasting adverse events.”
Jefferson et al. on Adverse events after immunisation with aluminium-containing DTP vaccines: systematic review of the evidence.
Over the years, especially since thimerosal was removed from most vaccines, the myths about thimerosal have surprising been increasing.
“Currently, the actions taken by the vaccine manufacturers, the FDA and the CDC have increased the possible maximum childhood exposure to mercury from vaccines to twice the level that triggered the 1999 call to remove mercury from all vaccines as soon as possible!”
Rev. Lisa K. Sykes on “Ten Lies” Told About Mercury in Vaccines
Of course, none of them are true.
Myths About Thimerosal in Vaccines
To begin with, there was no “call to remove mercury from all vaccines as soon as possible.”
Instead, as a “precautionary measure,” the AAP asked vaccine manufacturers “for a clear commitment and a plan to eliminate or reduce as expeditiously as possible the mercury content of their vaccines.”
“In addition, today most tetanus shots and the multi-dose Sanofi Menomune vaccine that are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still contain 25-micrograms-a-dose mercury.”
Rev. Lisa K. Sykes on “Ten Lies” Told About Mercury in Vaccines
After “realizing” the amount of mercury in the childhood vaccination schedule recommended by the CDC exceeded all national and global maximum safety limits, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United States Public Health Service called for the immediate removal of Thimerosal from all vaccines on July 7, 1999. – the amount of thimerosal in the childhood immunization schedule actually only exceeded EPA guidelines and was well below the guidelines of the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry (ATSDR) or the FDA. Also, since thimerosal-free versions of DTaP and Hib have always been available, only “a minority of infants could receive as much as 187.5 mg of ethylmercury during the first 6 months of life.”
children are getting even more mercury from vaccines today than when mercury was removed from vaccines, because pregnant women and kids get flu shots now – this theory doesn’t take into account that thimerosal-free flu vaccines have been available since 2003 and until recently, many kids didn’t get flu shots. For example, during the 2008-09 flu season, only 25% infants and toddlers were fully vaccinated against flu and even fewer pregnant women got flu shots (about 15%). The only way this myth could possibly be true would be if these folks all got a flu vaccine with thimerosal each and every year.
even as thimerosal was removed from the DTaP, Hib, and hepatitis B vaccines, kids still got exposed to thimerosal from other vaccines, like Menomume, the meningococcal vaccine – Although Menomume contained thimerosal, it had only been recommended for high risk kids since it was approved in 1981. It was later replaced by Menactra and Menveo, both of which are thimerosal-free, and which were recommended to all kids as they provided better coverage. Menomume was discontinued in 2017 and it is unlikely that many kids got it once Menactra and Menveo became available.
kids still get a tetanus shot with thimerosal – yes, they did, at least until the Tdap vaccines were approved in 2006. Tdap is thimerosal-free.
Thimerosal has never undergone even one modern safety test. – although mercury can be toxic, the thimerosal in vaccines has been shown to be safe. That’s not surprising – remember, “the dose makes the poison.”
Published studies have shown that Thimerosal and its mercury breakdown product contribute to: Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Arthritis, Food Allergies, Premature Puberty, and Infertility. – thimerosal in vaccines doesn’t cause any of these things, but you can probably find a published study somewhere saying that thimerosal causes Alzheimer’s, cancer, or food allergies, etc., but that just points to how important it is to look to trusted sources of information, as almost anyone can publish a bad study
Contrary to sound bites you hear on the nightly news, to be “anti-mercury” is not to be “anti-vaccine.” – if this is true, then why did Robert F. Kennedy, Jr write an editorial against University of Colorado students who passed a resolution for meningococcal B vaccines, which are thimerosal-free? And why push so much propaganda about thimerosal?
Corresponding to the sharply increasing level of mercury in the immunization schedule globally, which started in the late 1980’s, there has been an increasing rate of autism among children. This also explains why autism among 40-, 50-, 60-, 70- and 80-year-olds is not epidemic, but rather rare. – this is one of the main problems of the anti-vaccine movement… if you believe that autism is an epidemic, then there must be a cause and it becomes easy to blame vaccines. You also have to ignore the fact that there are plenty of autistic adults.
Among the Amish who do not vaccinate, the rate of autism is strikingly low. – there are autistic Amish
Unused vaccines with a preservative level of Thimerosal, however, are considered hazardous waste because of their high mercury content. If not injected into patients, discarded vials of these mercury-preserved vaccines, therefore, must be disposed of in steel drums, by law. – this is not true – at all… you also don’t have to call a Hazmat team if you break an unused vaccine vial with thimerosal…
…instead of requiring immediate removal, the CDC allowed the pharmaceutical companies to save money by using up their inventories of mercury-containing vaccines. By 2003, the industry had finally used up stocks of thimerosal-containing vaccines and Thimerosal is no longer used in these three vaccines. – the only basis for this statement is that the last thimerosal containing DTaP, Hib, and hepatitis B vaccines expired in 2003, but it is important to keep in mind that most vaccines are used well before their expiration date. In fact, many doctors order vaccines every month, so as to not keep large supplies of vaccines in their office, and since thimerosal-free versions were already available, those likely would have been ordered.
The term “trace amounts” means less than 1 microgram (mcg). Thimerosal-containing flu shots contain what in biochemical terms is actually a massive dose of mercury: 25 mcg. – vaccines labeled as having a trace amount of thimerosal have less than or equal to 1mcg, while others are clearly labeled as having up to 25mcg.
Why do I call that massive? Because the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum exposure limits for methyl mercury is .1 microgram per 1 kilogram of bodyweight, which means a baby would have to weigh 550 pounds to safely absorb 25 micrograms of mercury. At these levels, a growing fetus in a mother receiving the flu shot could get up to a million times the EPA’s safe levels. – wait, what? First, that is the maximum recommended daily exposure limit based on the assumption that the exposure to mercury will continue for long periods of time. That’s not the case when a pregnant woman gets a one time flu shot. And it is the pregnant mother who is getting the flu shot, not the baby. Although some thimerosal will cross the placenta, it is still not in levels that will cause harm, so calling the dose massive ends up just being an obvious propaganda tool to scare folks.
Autism and mercury poisoning have the same symptoms. – they don’t… In fact, there are many reports of epidemics of mercury poisoning throughout history that weren’t associated with autism, including in Minamata and Niigata, Japan, exposures from mercury in teething powders and worm medicines (pink disease), and food contamination in many countries.
“Yet mercury had long been the every-day treatment of infants at the time of teething in the form of teething powders.”
Ann Dally on The Rise and Fall of Pink Disease
Although it is hard to believe now, mercury wasn’t taken out of teething powders until 1957, after which time pink disease quickly disappeared. Why was mercury in teething powders in the first place? Unlike thimerosal in vaccines, I don’t think it was acting as a preservative, as it sounds like it was present in very high doses. So there was a lot of risk with no benefit.
Sounds like the opposite of what we had with thimerosal in vaccines – lots of benefit (vaccines didn’t get contaminated) with no risk.
But taking thimerosal out of vaccines was risk-free too, wasn’t it?
Nope. That’s another myth.
“Unfortunately, the precautions taken by the AAP and CDC calling for thimerosal removal from vaccines appears to have led to unintended risks. In particular, inappropriate recommendations by autism advocacy groups regarding treatment of autism (e.g., use of chelation) and avoidance of vaccines (e.g., influenza vaccine) may mislead parents to place children at unnecessary risks.”
Hurley et al on Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines and Autism: A Review of Recent Epidemiologic Studies
How many measles deaths have there been in the United States in the past ten years? Dr. Bob Sears frequently says that there have been none. It is easy to see that Dr. Bob is wrong, not even counting the latest death in 2015.
Measles Deaths in the United States
Measles deaths are thought to occur in about 1 in every 500 to 1,000 reported cases. This is not just in developing countries or in people with chronic medical conditions.
More recently, measles cases and measles deaths in the United States include:
2000 – 86 cases – 1 measles death (infant) – endemic spread of measles eliminated in U.S.
2001 – 116 cases – 1 measles death
2002 – 44 cases
2003 – 55 cases – 1 measles death (1 year old)
2004 – 37 cases – record low number of measles cases
2005 – 66 cases – 1 measles death (1 year old)
2006 – 55 cases
2007 – 43 cases
2008 – 140 cases
2009 – 71 cases – 2 measles deaths
2010 – 63 cases – 2 measles deaths
2011 – 220 cases
2012 – 55 cases – 2 measles deaths
2013 – 187 cases (large outbreak in New York City – 58 cases)
2014 – 667 cases (the worst year for measles since 1994, including the largest single outbreak since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated – 377 cases in Ohio)
2015 – 188 cases – got off to a strong start with a big outbreak in California – 1 measles death
2016 – 86 cases
2017 – 118 cases
So that’s 11 measles deaths since 2000 and at least 8 measles deaths since 2005.
The last death, a woman in Clallam County in Washington, was exposed in an outbreak of mostly unvaccinated people in 2015.
Why do people say that there have been no measles deaths in the United States in the past 10 years? Whether they are misinformed or intentionally trying to misinform people, they are wrong.
The Last Verifiable Measles Death in the United States
The CDC is actually contributing a bit to the confusion over measles deaths, in that when asked, they have historically said that “the last verifiable death in the United States from acute measles infection occurred in 2003 when there were 2 reported deaths.”
They explain the discrepancy between that statement and other CDC reports, like the recently published “Summary of Notifiable Diseases — United States, 2012,” which clearly documents measles deaths in 2005, 2009, and 2010, by saying that those reports are based on “statistical information about deaths in the United States.”
But that statistical information comes from death certificates that are sent in from all over the United States to the National Vital Statistics System. The system isn’t like VAERS, where just anyone can send in a report. You don’t necessarily have to be a doctor to sign and file a death certificate though either, which is why the CDC is probably hung up on saying that the last verifiable measles deaths were in 2003.
To be more precise when talking about measles deaths in the United States, since it doesn’t seem like the CDC has verified each and every measles death after 2003, it is likely best to say that death certificates have been filed in 2005, 2009 (2), 2010 (2), and 2012 (2) that listed measles as a cause of death code.
Of course, that still means that there have been measles deaths in the United States since 2003, especially now that the CDC actually states that “the last measles death in the United States occurred in 2015.”
About 6 to 8 years after having measles, children with SSPE develop progressive neurological symptoms, including memory loss, behavior changes, uncontrollable movements, and even seizures. As symptoms progress, they may become blind, develop stiff muscles, become unable to walk, and eventually deteriorate to a persistent vegetative state.
Children with SSPE usually die within 1 to 3 years of first developing symptoms, including in the United States:
2000 – 5 SSPE deaths
2001 – 2 SSPE deaths
2002 – 5 SSPE deaths
2003 – 0
2004 – 1 SSPE death
2005 – 2 SSPE deaths
2006 – 3 SSPE deaths
2007 – 3 SSPE deaths
2008 – 3 SSPE deaths
2009 – 2 SSPE deaths
2010 – 0
2011 – 4 SSPE deaths
2012 – 1 SSPE death
2013 – 1 SSPE death
2014 – 0
2015 – 1 SSPE death
2016 – 0
2017 – 0
That’s 33 SSPE deaths since 2000 and at least 20 SSPE deaths since 2005. Why so many? Many of them can likely be attributed to the large number of cases associated with measles outbreaks from 1989 to 1991.
Fortunately, as the number of measles cases has been dropping in the post-vaccine era, so have the number of SSPE deaths.
The National Registry for SSPE, reported that there were at least 453 cases between 1960 and 1976. There were 225 deaths from SSPE between 1979 and 1998. The registry wasn’t established until 1969 though, and it is now becoming clear that the risk of developing SSPE is much higher than once thought.
A recent study of measles in Germany has found that the risk of developing SSPE is about 1 in 1,700 to 1 in 3,300 cases of measles.
Other Myths About Measles Deaths
One of the classic measles myths we hear is that measles was disappearing even before the measles vaccine was developed. It is true that measles deaths had been dropping since the turn of the century.
The measles death rate (deaths per 100,000 people) in the United States was:
1900 – 13.3 (about 7000 deaths)
1910 – 12.4
1920 – 8.8
1930 – 3.2
1935 – 3.1
1940 – 0.5
1945 – 0.2
1950 – 0.3 (468 deaths)
1955 – 0.2 (345 deaths)
1960 – 0.2 (380 deaths)
1963 – first measles vaccine licensed
1965 – 0.1 (276 deaths)
1970 – 0.0 (89 deaths)
1975 – 0.0 (20 deaths)
1980 – 0.0 (11 deaths)
1985 – 0.0 (4 deaths)
That’s not surprising though. The general death rate had dropped from 17.8 in 1900 to 7.6 in 1960. For infants under age 12 months, the death rate dropped from 162.4 in 1933 to 27 in 1960.
This simply reflects that vaccines were not the only medical technology that helped to save lives in the 20th century and not that measles was already disappearing. Penicillin, insulin, vitamin D, blood typing (allows transfusions of blood that has been typed and cross-matched), dialysis machines, and mechanical ventilators were all discovered in the early 1900s.
If you notice though, the death rate for measles got stuck after the 1940s at about 0.2 to 0.3, even as modern medicine continued to advance. That’s about 300 to 500 measles deaths each year in the United States. This was after World War II and through the 1950s and early 1960s, hardly a time of poor hygiene or poor nutrition or when Americans were without access to medical care.
It took about 20 years for those deaths to start dropping again, and it took the coming of the measles vaccine to do it.
So if we stop vaccinating, we won’t get to 7,000 measles deaths a year again in the United States. Modern medicine has improved a great deal since 1900. We would eventually get to about 320 to 960 measles deaths a year though (using our current population of 320 million people and a measles death rate between 0.1 and 0.3).
Other Facts About Measles Deaths
People still die of measles.
What else do you need to know about measles deaths?
SSPE is caused by wild type measles. Vaccine strain measles has never been found in the brain tissue of anyone who has ever died of SSPE.
Although SSPE was first described by Dr. James R. Dawson, JR as a new type of epidemic encephalitis in 1933 (Dawson’s disease), that it is a late complication of a natural measles infection wasn’t discovered until much later.
People have recently died of measles in other industrial countries too. Basically anywhere there have been measles outbreaks, there have been measles deaths, including Canada, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and France, etc.
Worldwide, about 400 people die each and every day from measles.