Vintage virus: Why are we still dealing with measles in 2011?

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Measles cases in the U.S. this year are at their highest since 1996, the CDC reports. In only the first four months of 2011, 118 cases have already been reported, 89 percent of which can be attributed to importation of the disease — and, significantly, 105 of those cases occurred in unvaccinated people. Travelers returning from Europe and Southeast Asia make up the bulk of the diagnoses. Although the disease has been considered eliminated in the U.S. since the late 1990s, this is no reason to be lax about vaccination: measles is still quite common in the rest of the world. France, for instance, has reported 10,000 cases since 2008 — and travelers need to be aware of the risk, which is substantial in other parts of Europe as well. Furthermore, to be negligent about getting vaccinated is to put the rest of one’s community at risk: infants less than a year old can’t yet be vaccinated and — sure enough — 15 percent of the cases in the U.S. were present among children of that age.

In April, we reported on a significant outbreak of measles in Europe, while in March, six cases emerged in Hennepin County in Minnesota (that state being among the twenty permitting “philosophical” exemptions from childhood vaccinations). Therefore, we’d like to take this moment to remind everyone that vaccinations — in this case, the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine — should not be regarded as optional.