Measles cases at a 12-year high

Filed under: Preschoolers, Big Kids, Health & Safety: Babies, Medical Conditions, In The News

It's the time of year when school nurses across the country are looking over student's immunization records to make sure they've had all the shots they need in order to attend class. But as we've discussed here many times before, not all students will be required to show proof of immunizations before being allowed in school. Every state in the U.S. allows students to skip the shots if their parents object for medical reasons and most states allow an exemption for religious reasons. And with the growing fears that autism and other disorders might be tied to immunizations, more parents are claiming those exemptions.

Skipping the shots may give some parents peace of mind, but it is also being blamed for the increase in measles cases. The first half of 2008 saw 131 cases of the highly contagious disease, compared to just 42 in the entirety of 2007. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 112 of this year's cases were in people who were either unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status.

"At the national level, I am concerned about our situation," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Every year, the U.S. experiences importation of measles. What is different this year is once it is imported, we are seeing it spread to more people, and most of that spread is to people under 20."

Dr. Neal Halsey, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says that many parents who don't immunize mistakenly believe that the risk of contracting measles is very low. "That is, unfortunately, a false belief," he says. "It is important we maintain high disease vaccination. Getting vaccinated is the safest thing we can do for children."

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