At least 140 people across North America have been confirmed to have measles as of Feb. 13 in a major outbreak that started at Disneyland amusement park in mid-December. Six park employees also have reportedly been infected. Though not the largest, the current outbreak is certainly the most high-profile in U.S. history.
Measles is highly contagious and California has overwhelmingly the most reported number of cases in the outbreak. According to the California Department of Public Health, 110 people have reported being infected, most of those in Orange County, where Disneyland is located. So far, 39 confirmed cases have come from those that actually visited the amusement park between the days of Dec. 17 and Dec. 20, the CDPH reports. Another 26 cases are close contacts of the original cases, and still another eight people were likely exposed in a community setting, such as an emergency room, where one of the confirmed cases was nearby. Exposure sources for 37 other cases are unknown.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 45% of the California patients were unvaccinated. And in Canada, health officials reported that none of their confirmed cases had been vaccinated.
According to the State of California, at least 17 people have been hospitalized. A large majority of the confirmed cases so far have come from people over 20 years of age.
The World Health Organization, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health and other organizations say getting the measles vaccination is one important part of the solution – though that has become a topic of hot debate.
“There are a number of wonderful things that vaccines have done for civilization over the years, but there’s also a tremendous problem right now with the industry that is pushing vaccinations, and some of the things that are added to these vaccines,” said Dr. Pedram Shojai on a recent Health Bridge podcast. “I’m no fan of Big Pharma trying to over-vaccinate our children and create an environment which is unhealthy and deserves a certain degree of distrust. But I’m also a scientist. I know that using the immune system in certain ways to inoculate and help us against disease has traditionally in medicine been a good thing.”
Measles cases peaked in 1957 to nearly 800,000 in the United States, then began to decline and lingered between 400,000-500,000 each year until the first measles vaccine was introduced to the public in 1964. In the first year, cases dropped by about 200,000 and continued to plummet until 1968, when cases dropped to between about 10,000-20,000. Despite a handful of outbreaks, the number of measles cases have never come close to those numbers, in decades. But according to the CDC, measles has been making a comeback since it was considered eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. Since then, there have been more than 100 reported cases in four of the last six years. There were 23 outbreaks in 2014 alone, sickening 644 people in 27 states from California to Massachusetts.
What’s the risk with measles? Most commonly, symptoms are fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes and rash. Other symptoms can be severe diarrhea and dehydration. The CDC reports that one in 20 will get pneumonia and approximately one in every 1,000-2,000 will die. In 2013, globally more than 145,000 people – mostly poor children under the age of 5 – died from the virus.
Other complications can include ear infections, blindness and encephalitis, the World Health Organization says.
According to WHO, the vaccination schedule is usually to get two in childhood, first at 12-15 months and again between the ages of 4 and 6. Shojai, who said he will vaccinate his child for measles when his son is old enough, also said the current overall vaccine schedule that loads the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) along with many others over too short a period of time might be a big part of the problem. Recent studies have found a small risk of febrile seizures when receiving the MMR and chickenpox (varicella) vaccines too closely together and an increased risk of febrile seizures within the two weeks following a combined MMR and varicella vaccine. “There are alternative vaccination schedules that have been positive. A lot of pediatricians are starting to follow those. They still don’t really believe in them, but they are doing it to appease the parents to a degree.”
A change in public viewpoints on vaccines began after a 1998 British study that has since been denounced found a rise in autism in children who had received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. However, multiple studies by the CDC and other organizations since then have yet to find a plausible link between simple vaccination and autism or other neurophysiological damage in children. One of the largest studies so far, published in 2007 in The New England Journal of Medicine involved 1,047 children who received various vaccines in the 1990s when thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury used in some vaccines since the 1930s, was still a common ingredient.
In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics, various public health service agencies and vaccine manufacturers agreed to eliminate thimerosal’s use in childhood vaccines as a precautionary measure. It is, however, still used in some influenza vaccines.
Though the ingredients of the current half milliliter measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR II) sound like a foreign language, this is how the CDC and Merck, which makes the MMR II, break it down:
*Gelatin, which is Jell-O without the artificial dye or flavor.
*Phosphate, an ingredient found in our blood, tissue and bones and the ingredient that makes Coke tart.
*Sorbitol, a sugar found in blackberries, raspberries, various other fruits and sugarless gum.
*Neomycin, an antibiotic found in larger amounts in Neosporin.
*Medium 199, a solution containing amino acids, glucose, vitamins and salt that is used to originally grow the virus.
*Minimum Essential Medium, a collection of glucose, electrolytes and salt used early on in the virus-growing process. Trace amounts might remain.
*Recombinant Human Albumin, a plentiful protein of human blood used as a kind of preservative for virus.
*Chick Embryo Cell Culture, though it sounds bizarre is actually a pretty old idea. Growing live viruses in the cells of other species can stir the immune response without causing the actual disease.
*WI-38 Human Diploid Lung Fibroblasts, a colorful name for the human cells used to grow the rubella virus. So while measles and mumps can be grown in chick embryo cells, rubella will only grow in human cells.
In this episode of The Health Bridge, Pedram welcomed guests Jeff Hays and Louise Habakus. Jeff Hays is a filmmaker whose upcoming film, “Bought,” deals with the topic of vaccine manufacturers and their practices. Louise Habakus appears in the film and is the founding director of Center for Personal Rights and lead radio host of Fearless Parent Radio. A lot of the responses we received conveyed opinion that Sara and Pedram were lacking information outside of CDC research. Jeff and Louise were invited to try to educate the hosts more on what you, the listeners, felt was lacking in the previous episode. What is most important to consider is that we must all be open to all the information is out there. Vaccination is a complicated topic that extends beyond just the aspect of public safety. Pedram, Jeff, and Louise discuss the various aspects that should weigh in a parent’s decision.
Watch Jeff Hays’ film “Bought” for free by clicking here.