Feature

Health scare of the week: Measles on the march

After being eradicated in the U.S. as recently as 2000, the highly contagious respiratory disease is back.

Americans are facing the worst outbreak of measles in 15 years, the CDC reports. After being eradicated in the U.S. as recently as 2000, the highly contagious respiratory disease is back, largely because of a “failure to vaccinate,” CDC researcher Gregory Wallace tells USA Today. Most of the infections are the result of unvaccinated travelers who are exposed to measles in foreign countries such as France, where this year alone the virus has stricken more than 10,000 people, killing six. Since the early symptoms of measles—fever, sneezing, and a runny nose—are similar to those of the common cold, sufferers often don’t realize they have the virus until it’s too late. Meanwhile, they’ll infect nine out of every 10 unvaccinated people they encounter. The outbreak raises the public health risk presented by parents who avoid getting their children the MMR—measles, mumps, and rubella—vaccine because of the discredited myth that it causes autism. William Schaffner, a measles expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says MMR shots are the only way to keep measles at bay. “These viral diseases,” he warns, “are only a plane ride away.”

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