HARI SREENIVASAN: U.S. health officials say the recent measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in Southern California continues to ripple across the nation. Approximately 100 cases have been reported so far.
How great a risk does it pose? And what can be done to stop its spread?
I spoke about this yesterday with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Washington.
So, Dr. Fauci, we know that there are, what, 20 million measles cases around the world every year. But what does a theme park like a Disneyland do to make sure that the parents and children that are visiting from the United States or from other countries are safe?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: You know, it really relates to the fact that this happens because children are not vaccinated.
The overwhelming number of people who have gotten infected, particularly among the children, are children that have not been vaccinated, because parents, for reasons that are really not based on any scientific data, just don’t want their children to be vaccinated.
And it’s really unfortunate, because vaccination can prevent all of this.
One of the things we do know about measles is that the vaccine that we have is one of the most effective vaccines we have for any viral disease or for any microbe.
So this all could have been shut down if people had gotten vaccinated. That is the real critical issue.
HARI SREENIVASAN: I mean, in 2000, we declared measles was eliminated. I mean, that means not active disease transmissions.
And when you look at the numbers, between 2001 and 2013, we had an average of about 88 cases a year.
And, last year, we had 644. I mean, that is an enormous leap.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: That is. And that’s very unfortunate.
There were 23 separate outbreaks during the year 2014, which, as you mentioned correctly, 644 cases.
That just shouldn’t have happened. People don’t fully appreciate that measles is not a trivial disease. It can be truly a very serious disease.
Prior to the availability of vaccinations, we had about 500,000 cases in the United States and an average of about 500 deaths per year.
That was essentially — as you mentioned, again correctly, essentially eliminated because we were measles-free.
And then, because of the movement of — anti-vaccination movement and children not getting vaccinated, particularly when it is concentrated in certain areas, where there are a higher percentage in certain parts of the country.
That really leads to that group and cluster, so that when you have an introduction of measles, wherever it may be, it could be in a recreational park or someplace else where people congregate, if you have a certain percentage of the children or of anyone who are not protected against measles, that’s how you get these outbreaks, which, unfortunately, could really have been completely avoided and prevented.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, as you mentioned these clusters, I mean, epidemiologists have studied these patterns.
And this is something that cuts across, whether it’s conservative or liberal, rich or poor.
So, how do you design a health policy that tackles these little clusters?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, what we have to do is continue to underscore and emphasize the importance of vaccination, but also to underscore the fact that the reason for not vaccinating, they — this issue that the risk of a measles vaccine is so great that it overrides the benefit that you could get from protecting your child, is just not true.
Because the evidence that was put forth years ago about various adverse events associated with measles vaccination, from different types of disease to autism, have been completely disproven by a number of scientific bodies, independent bodies, that have shown that.
And yet they still cling and reinforce each other that, in fact, measles vaccines and other vaccines really shouldn’t be given because they’re dangerous.
That’s just unfortunate and leads to the kind of thing that we’re dealing with right now.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let me preface this question with saying, I’m not trying to scare my audience.
But I have got to ask that some part of us is due to the fact that a lot of us don’t have firsthand experience with measles, right?
So what is the vaccine protecting a child from? What are the effects of this disease?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, measles is one of those diseases that, in and of itself, is serious, but can lead to serious complications.
The kind of clinical manifestation, you get a fever, you get a cough, you get running nose, you get conjunctivitis or what we call red eye.
And it really debilitates the child during that period of time. A certain percentage of children go on to complications like middle ear infections, pneumonia, and even encephalitis, and even death.
That is the — why the development of the measles vaccination and the elimination of measles from this country several years ago, until it bounced back now with these outbreaks, was really a triumph in medical public health endeavor.
Good vaccinations, in some respects paradoxically, are victims of their own success.
Now that we don’t see a lot of measles, that scare of the difficulty and the seriousness of it is not on people’s radar screen.
It gets back on their radar screen when you see what is going on right now throughout the country, which could be completely avoidable if people had vaccinated their children.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, thanks so much.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: You’re quite welcome.