EDITORIAL: Measles makes a comeback

York Dispatch Editorial Board

We were so close.

In 2000, measles was declared eradicated in the United States. That year, there were 86 cases reported in the whole country. And the numbers dropped even lower — 44 cases in 2002, 37 in 2004, according to Statista.com. 

Sure, there were years with higher numbers of cases, but between 2000 and 2012, there were only three years when more than 100 people in this country developed measles.

But then cases began to spike, with 187 in 2013, 667 in 2014 and 372 last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. 

More:WellSpan urges people possibly exposed to measles to call hotline

More:Measles at 25-year peak in the U.S.

Which brings us to this year, when more than 1,200 cases of measles were reported in 31 states in just the first eight months.

Fourteen of those were in Pennsylvania. One was in York County.

This is getting close to home.

Let's preface this by saying we know nothing about the person in York County who is recovering from the measles. The state Department of Health and WellSpan cannot release any information about the age or sex of the person or whether they were vaccinated.

What we do know is that everyone who was at WellSpan Stony Brook Health Center, 4222 E. Market St., on Aug. 26 and 28-29 and at WellSpan York Hospital on Aug. 26 and 29 was potentially exposed to the measles. 

The person with measles was also at Fuddruckers, 2300 E. Market St., on Aug. 22 and Hershey Theater, 15 E Caracas Ave., Hershey, on Aug. 23, according to the state Department of Health. 

In this Friday, May 17, 2019 photo, Starr Roden, left, a registered nurse and immunization outreach coordinator with the Knox County Health Department, administers a vaccination to Jonathan Detweiler, 6, at the facility in Mount Vernon, Ohio. States are debating whether to make it more difficult for students to avoid vaccinations for religious or philosophical reasons amid the worst measles outbreak in decades, but children using such waivers are outnumbered in many states by those who give no excuse for lacking shots.Data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a majority of unvaccinated or undervaccinated kindergartners in 10 of 27 states reporting were allowed to enroll in school without any exemption. ((AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Now, anyone who has received the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine will most likely be fine. That's how vaccines work: If you have the vaccine, you can be exposed and not get sick. The MMR vaccine is 97% effective, according to the CDC.

But there are those who cannot receive the vaccine, including children less than a year old, people with severe allergies and people with compromised immune systems, including those being treated for cancer. 

They are the reason why everyone else needs to be vaccinated.

Measles is one of the most highly contagious diseases known. It is spread through droplets in the air as the contagious person coughs and sneezes. Before the vaccine became available in 1963, 3 million to 4 million Americans had the measles each year, 48,000 were hospitalized because of it, and 400 to 500 people died.

Once the vaccine took hold, outbreaks became less frequent. Which is how it works. If one person has measles but everyone around them is vaccinated, it doesn't spread. There is no outbreak. It's just one person with the measles. One doctor at York Hospital said the recent case was the only time he'd seen the diagnosis in 16 years of practice.

But now we're dealing with the anti-vaccine movement, a group that says children don't need to be immunized against these formerly common childhood diseases. Any number of websites and Facebook groups are devoted to giving parents reasons not to get their children vaccinations.

There's a reason the World Health Organization has named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health. It's so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and justifications and bad science that the anti-vax groups thrive on.

And their propaganda has been effective. An outbreak in New York last year hit an Orthodox Jewish community hard because many people were not vaccinated — not for religious reasons, but by choice. In 2017, a Somali-American community in Minnesota saw 75 cases of measles because parents didn't have their children vaccinated because of lack of trust of doctors.

And so, measles is again taking hold in this country.

It was such an easy thing to do. Take a child to a doctor or a clinic and get a shot. Take yourself to the doctor or a clinic and get a shot. And if enough people did just that, measles would no longer be a threat to those who could not.

But we've dropped the ball, and more people are getting sick. 

We were so close. 

Anyone who was exposed to the York County measles patient can call the WellSpan Measles Exposure Hotline, 1-855-851-3641 or the state Department of Health hotline, 1-877-PA-HEALTH. Anyone who is experiencing symptoms should call the hotline before going to the hospital, WellSpan officials stressed.