Measles is supposed to be dead and gone from the United States, having been declared “eliminated” by the Centers for Disease Control in 2000. But 15 years later, the disease appears to be back, not yet strongly and so far not with a vengeance. But it’s back.
The new outbreak has inevitably spawned a contagion of blame, most of it aimed at everything but a likely major contributor.
The term “elimination” is misleading. The CDC defines “elimination” as “the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area.” Measles, the CDC says, “is no longer endemic [or constantly present] in the United States.” Since the year 2000, when measles was declared “eliminated” here, the number of cases has ranged from 37 in 2004 to 644 in all of last year. The numbers were 55 in 2012 and 187 in 2013.
The latest spike may be a harbinger of more bad news to come. An outbreak first reported at Disneyland in Orange County, California, numbers more than 100 cases in 14 states so far this year. “This virus is incredibly contagious,” says Sandra Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “When measles was more common in the U.S., hundreds of children died from this virus every year.”
The small anti-vaccination movement was blamed for outbreaks of whooping cough and pertussis in 2012, two other diseases thought to have been eradicated. The so-called “anti-vaxxers,” driven by concerns over the safety of vaccines, are blamed this time, but that may be a diversion of attention from the accurate source of the measles resurgence.
The disease, the CDC says, is brought into the U.S. “by unvaccinated [Americans or foreign visitors] who are infected in other countries.” Nothing has so far been said about President Obama’s having thrown open the southern border last year. The timing of the outbreak coincides with the surge of hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants whom the Obama administration did nothing to discourage.
Led by ThinkProgress.org, the left is covering for Mr. Obama’s immigration schemes, arguing that data from the World Health Organization shows that measles-vaccination rates in Mexico and Central America are higher than the U.S. rate of 92 percent. The president’s political allies argue that this clears the illegals from blame, but the infected poor and usually illiterate youths who streamed across the border unchecked last year may have been drawn from those who were not vaccinated. We don’t know, because there was no screening of the arrivals for disease of any kind, nor whether they had had the vaccinations most American children receive. They were quickly dispersed across the country by the Department of Homeland Security.
“It’s not to prejudice anybody, but we have to deal with reality,” says Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and whose weekly column is published in many newspapers, including The Washington Times. “And if you have people coming into your country who have not been properly screened,” he told CNN, “I don’t think you have to be a genius to figure out that that could introduce some communicable [disease] problems.”
The measles outbreak was discussed at a hearing Tuesday by the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Both Democrats and Republicans tried to reassure parents that the vaccine is safe, but several of the Democrats on the panel want a hearing devoted solely to measles. This seems to us a good idea. Measles was once a scourge of childhood, and as recently as 1980 killed more than 15 million persons worldwide, most of them children under 5 years old. It’s no longer a scourge, but it’s a source of concern.