Another Measles Epidemic May Be Heading Our Way, Warn Experts, & It's Yet Another Important Reminder Of How Crucial Vaccination Is

According to researchers at Emory University, another measles epidemic might be coming — and this time, it could be even more widespread. The warning came Thursday, and since then, information about the severity of a potential outbreak keeps trickling in. After last year's measles outbreak at Disneyland, where 130 people became ill, American Medical Association board member Dr. Patrice Harris urged the importance of immunization against the virus. "When people are immunized they also help prevent the spread of disease to others," she reiterated at the time, while speaking to Forbes. And in the months since, even more measures have been put in place that all echo that very same sentiment: Vaccination is a must, not an option; and the growing number of non-vaccinated Americans are putting the population at risk.

This news comes nearly 10 months since the last measles outbreak hit California, back in December 2014. It was officially declared over in June of this year, though by then, the state government had already made moves to step in, passing a bill to outlaw non-medical exemptions. That same month, the American Medical Association called for a ban on non-medical exemptions nationwide at their annual Chicago meeting, though a federal bill has not yet been presented to Congress. In recent years, parents have chosen not to vaccinate for a variety of reasons — some religious, some personal — though most over concerns that vaccinating leads to autism, a theory that's been disproved by multiple studies.

While it's somewhat speculative to report a connection between the anti-vax movement and a resurgence of measles, in areas like California — where parents are opting not to vaccinate their kids at more than twice the rate they did seven years ago — one has to wonder why diseases once-dormant are popping up. Experts also point to the importance of maintaining "herd immunity," a phenomenon wherein 92 percent of a population has to be immunized in order to prevent outbreak of contagious diseases. As Thursday's reports from Emory's research team warns, we are in fact in danger of losing our "herd immunity," which is precisely why another outbreak looms. Speaking to the Boston Globe Thursday, Dr. Robert Bednarczyk said:

Right now we have a little bit of a buffer. If we do start to see immunization levels dip down a little bit and we see those dips sustained, we could start to lose that overall population level immunity. And if measles get introduced, we may start seeing larger and more severe outbreaks.

The Emory University report particularly highlights just how pivotal the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) is for young children, who are most at-risk. In fact, 25 percent of those aged three and under are particularly vulnerable, which is why early vaccination is key. "One in eight children under the age of 17 is susceptible to the disease and would likely get sick if exposed to the dangerous virus," the report continues.

Measles epidemics were common in the pre-vax era (before 1960, when the MMR vaccination was introduced). Symptoms of the virus include mild-to-severe flu and tell-tale rash, but in some cases, children suffer long-term effects, such as permanent hearing loss or intellectual disabilities. Fatalities from measles are rare, but occur for every one or two out of 1,000 children infected. With hope, though, the spread of knowledge — as well as the possibility that the AMA will push Washington towards passing a federal bill banning exemptions — will be enough to settle the debate once and for all; though the threat of a looming outbreak certainly seems strong.

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