Perhaps we forgot how bad measles can be

If you were born before 1963, you are old enough to be a grandparent and likewise old enough to have had measles. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make the distinction between 55-and-older-somethings versus those born later because that is when an effective measles vaccine began to be administered to young children.

If you were born before 1963, and you had measles, and you remember the rash, feverishness, pain, listlessness and utter exhaustion that kept you bedridden for a week, it would help counter the recurrence of this unnecessary illness for you to describe the experience to younger people, particularly parents.

The CDC reports that the United States is currently experiencing the largest outbreak of measles since 2000, with most cases occurring after contact with people who have been traveling in other countries, including Israel, where a large outbreak is occurring. As of April 11 the nationwide number of cases stood at 555. In Connecticut, which fortunately has a high rate of immunization, there have been three so far. However, a tiny but vocal group of people opposed to vaccination, in this state and others, has opened the door to exposure by refusing to immunize their children.

Anyone with a memory of measles will want to save today's children from exposure to a disease once considered inevitable but frightening. Elderly parents, if they are still living, might be able to describe what it is like to watch a child in the throes of high fever and to know that dangerous and even irreversible side effects could erupt.

The CDC estimates that before vaccination — which is a combination dose for measles, rubella (also known as German measles) and mumps — 3 to 4 million Americans got measles each year. About 500,000 of those were reported annually to the CDC; of these, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling).

Now, the recommended two doses of vaccine are 97 percent effective at preventing the illness. The state Department of Public Health provides vaccine free for health care providers to administer without cost to families.

Parents who are now exposing their children to one of the most infectious diseases known may not take it seriously enough because they haven't seen measles, or rubeola, in action. What they have seen, and deeply fear, are the neurological conditions that some "anti-vaxxers" claim are caused by vaccination. They fear autism.

Scientists and physicians have repeatedly countered the notion that vaccinating causes autism. The New England Journal of Medicine published a Danish study in 2002 that found no difference in the incidence of autism among children vaccinated against measles and those who weren’t. A study published this spring in the Annals of Internal Medicine, also based on Danish vaccination data, reached a similar conclusion, according to the Connecticut Mirror.

Others claim an exemption on grounds of religious belief. Connecticut's provision for religious exemption is a "temporary waiver" that requires a notarized statement from parents. Early in the current session legislators bandied the idea of changing the provision, but the proposed amendment has not moved from the Public Health Committee.

Two of the largest outbreaks in the eastern U.S. are in New York's Rockland County and New York City, only 100 miles away. In both, authorities have imposed restrictions meant to educate the public and enforce immunization laws, but there is still resistance.

This week will be a travel time with spring school vacations and families gathering to celebrate Passover and Easter, creating an opportunity for measles to spread. Children are often the primary victims of a major outbreak of this dangerous disease they did not have to contract.

If you are responsible for the wellbeing of a child, or you have influence on family members who do, don't let them get measles. Make sure they, and you, have been vaccinated.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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