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CRF Blog » Blog Archive » 8 things everybody should know about measles

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8 things everybody should know about measles

by Bill Hayes

Vox explains 8 things everybody should know about measles.

1) How did the big US measles outbreaks happen?

Measles outbreaks in the US typically start when a traveler picks up the virus in another country where measles is still common and brings it back to an unvaccinated community here.

In New York, the current outbreaks also originated with travelers who had recently visited Israel, where a massive measles epidemic is currently underway. The travelers returned to the US and spread it among unvaccinated or under-vaccinated communities in New York state.

In the Washington outbreak, “patient zero” was also visiting from outside the country, carrying a strain of the virus that’s circulating in Eastern Europe, and came into contact with unvaccinated children in Clark County. Those children then visited public places including health care facilities, schools, and churches, as well as Ikea and Dollar Tree — spreading measles to others.

What these two outbreaks have in common: they’ve both happened in communities with high rates of people who opted out of vaccines on behalf of their children, making them more susceptible to entirely preventable diseases. As well, in both states, the outbreaks centered around tight-knit, traditional communities (in New York, ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities and in Washington, Slavic immigrants.)

These communities have become an urgent focus of health departments across the country, said Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before New York and Washington, it was vaccine-refusing Amish in Ohio and Somali Americans in Minnesota. When measles strikes, outbreaks in tight-knit groups tend to be “explosive” and more difficult to control.

According to CDC data, 12 of the 26 measles outbreaks in the past five years (involving more than five cases) centered on tight-knit communities, which Messonier defines as people of a similar background who share values and beliefs and interact often. And because these outbreaks have been bigger, they account for 75 percent of recent measles cases. [more]