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Unvaccinated kids make all public spaces riskier — for everyone

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Seriously, just vaccinate your children

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The Disneyland measles outbreak is directly attributable to vaccine-denier movements, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today in a conference call with reporters.

From January 1st to 28th, 84 people in 14 states have been reported as having measles, said Anne Schuchat, the head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Most of these cases — 56 people — are linked to the outbreak at Disneyland resort in Anaheim, where five employees are sick as well. The remainder were infected abroad and brought the disease back.

last year, the cdc reported 644 measles cases Measles was declared eliminated in the US in 2000, but they've been creeping back. From 2000 to 2010, there were usually about 60 cases a year. Last year, the CDC reported 644 cases — the highest number of measles infections since 2000. More adults are getting sick than in typical outbreaks, Schuchat said. The majority of people who got sick were unvaccinated.

"This is not a problem of the measles vaccine not working. This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used," said Schuchat, the head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in the call. "It is frustrating that people have opted out of vaccination."

Some parents have avoided vaccinating their children after a now-discredited study by Andrew Wakefield suggested a link between vaccination and autism. The British Medical Journal has called Wakefield a "fraud," and the studies where he claimed to have found the link were retracted by the journal that published them, The Lancet. In multiple studies since Wakefield's original report, no link has been found between vaccines and autism.

"This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used."That message hasn't made it to some people, though. Celebrities like Jenny McCarthy spread conspiracy theories — nicely detailed in Seth Mnookin's book, The Panic Virus — about "toxins" in vaccines that could cause autism in children. Our best evidence suggests that this is not what's happening. But parents don't seem to want to listen. Communities, especially in California, are springing up where significant parts of the population are unvaccinated.

And now, The New York Times is publicly wondering if measles are going to spell trouble for the Super Bowl (over 1,000 people in Arizona have been exposed; health authorities are engaged in contact tracing now). Anna Edney, of Bloomberg News, asked the CDC if they were worried about such a large crowd gathering, on the press call. Because — in case it's not obvious by now —measles is highly contagious. A person with measles doesn't show symptoms for four days before the rash appears, but is capable of infecting others. The virus is airborne, and can live for up to two hours on surfaces after being ejected from the body, according to the CDC. "Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected," the CDC writes.

Measles is highly contagious Measles is a miserable disease. Its characteristics are a high fever, a runny nose, a rash, and conjunctivitis. Children under the age of five and adults over 20 are most likely to suffer serious complications, which include: pneumonia (the most common cause of death in children with measles), brain swelling, and (of course) death. But even the mild cases are brutal.

But we've beaten measles before. The effort for public vaccination began in 1963, when 3 million to 4 million in the US were infected yearly by the virus; the yearly death toll was around 500. The vaccination campaign in the 1960s was so successful that we've forgotten what a powerful enemy measles can be. "We have a generation that hasn’t seen this disease," said Schuchat. "Clinicians who haven’t taken care of it, parents who wonder if this disease exists." It definitely exists.

And even vaccinated people can be sickened by measles, although the phenomenon is rare. Our vaccination rate among children varies by state: 82 percent in Colorado is the low end; the high end is Mississippi, where virtually everyone got their shots. Public health officials say vaccination rates need to be higher than 95 percent to avoid outbreaks — otherwise, because measles is so good at spreading, it can find and exploit gaps in immunity.

vaccination rates need to be higher than 95 percent That's what's really frustrating about vaccine denialists. If you want to run the risk of having your child suffer (and possibly die!) from a preventable disease for no good reason, hey — you're more of a gambler than I am, and the best of luck to you. But there are some people that are put at risk when the number of vaccinated people drops. People whose immune systems aren't as strong —  so you know, pregnant women, newborns, cancer patients, HIV-positive people, transplant recipients, the elderly — are also affected by the choice not to vaccinate. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids aren't just gambling with their kids' lives, they're gambling with the lives of others, too. Again: with no evidence.

There is no reason why we should have measles outbreaks. Put on your grown-up outfit, suck it up for the good of society, and vaccinate your fucking kids.

Verge Video: Can We Conquer Infectious Disease? (The Big Future, Ep. 10)