Measles on Rise as Parents Question Vaccine
Reports of measles are on the rise, with health experts attributing the increase to the decision by some parents to forego vaccinations for their children out of fears the shots could trigger diseases.
Scientific research has found no link thus far between vaccinations and diseases such as autism, but some parents remain suspicious.
Pediatricians and health experts are sounding the alarm, noting that measles, which is virulently contagious, is the first disease to crop up when vaccination rates fall. In the past six months, 131 cases of measles have been reported, more than in any other six-month period in the past 12 years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says extensive reports from several leading researchers have found no "proven association" between autism and measles vaccines. Experts recently told the Chicago Tribune that autism "tends to emerge at the same age children receive their shots, leading to a false sense of cause and effect."
"Parental suspicion is now so high that public health officials fear it could undermine one of the most important advances in medical history," the Tribune reported. "Although vaccination rates have remained fairly steady, pockets of vaccine rejection can lead to outbreaks of childhood diseases that were once thought conquered."
Of the 131 cases reported to CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases between Jan. 1 and July 31, most were school-aged children whose parents had yet to vaccinate them. At least 15 patients were hospitalized; no deaths were reported. Illinois led the nation with 32 reported cases, followed by New York with 27 and Washington State with 19. Washington, D.C., and Virginia reported one case each. There were 55 cases of measles reported in the United States in all of 2006.
Two of the biggest outbreaks, in Illinois and Washington State, occurred after unvaccinated children infected others. In Washington, a child caught the disease at a church conference attended by 3,000 junior high school students. That child infected seven other children in her household and they spread measles to 11 other people, according to the health site WebMD. Many of those infected were home-schooled and none were vaccinated due to their parents' beliefs.
Health authorities are concerned that larger outbreaks of the disease could be next. Dr. Dave Tayloe Jr., president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Raleigh News & Observer that an epidemic can be "only a plane ride away."
The New York Times reports that the number of parents who claim a philosophical exemption to mandatory vaccine laws has grown. At least 20 states allow personal or philosophical exemptions, according to the nonprofit National Vaccine Information Center.
Many parents of children afflicted with autism continue to argue that a link exists, pointing to a legal dispute in Georgia between the family of 9-year-old Hannah Poling and the federal government. In that case, a court awarded Poling a still-undetermined amount of money from a federal vaccine injury fund, finding that vaccines aggravated a rare underlying metabolic condition that resulted in a brain disorder "with features of autism spectrum disorder," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
At the time, several researchers -- including Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, and Dr. Ira Rubin of Naperville Pediatrics in Naperville, Ill. -- said legal action does not equate with scientific proof of a link between vaccines and autism. Still, Poling's case, and others like it, have left some experts asking questions. Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of the National Institutes of Health, told CBS News in May that a consensus opinion within the medical community over an autism-vaccine link has not been reached and that more study is needed. "I think that the public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational," Healy said.
But the National Network for Immunization Information and two books published by the National Academies Press say autism is caused by genetics, not by any chemical found in vaccinations.
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