S.C. should heed measles hazard

In this April 24, 2006, file photo, Darrie Hutchison, a registered nurse at the Wichita Clinic in Wichita, Kan., draws a dose of mumps- measles-rubella, or MMR vaccine. (AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Mike Hutmacher, File)

So far, at least 95 people across eight states and Mexico have been infected with measles in an outbreak tied to Disneyland. Nearly a quarter of those patients have been hospitalized. All of the cases were preventable.

But vaccination rates in California, where the outbreak occurred, have been falling, with 9 percent of toddlers now unvaccinated.

The spreading infection should be cause for concern in South Carolina, where the vaccination shortfall is even worse, at 11 percent. Who says it can’t happen here?

But it needn’t. That’s because the vaccine to prevent measles — along with mumps and rubella — boasts a 97 percent effectiveness rate when correctly administered.

Since children started regularly receiving the MMR vaccine in the United States during the 1970s, cases of measles have plummeted from millions each year to only a few dozen in 2000.

That year, the Centers for Disease Control declared measles dead. Unfortunately, the CDC underestimated the rising “viral” power of the Internet to spread and perpetuate misinformation.

Thus the anti-vaccine movement was born. Some parents, driven largely by dubious health websites and social media, worry that vaccines have been linked to diseases and disabilities in children. The MMR vaccine, in particular, was flagged as a possible cause of autism in a thoroughly discredited — and since retracted — 1998 research paper published in The Lancet medical journal and reproduced online ad infinitum.

But MMR shots don’t cause autism. Dozens of independent scientific studies have confirmed that fact. The shots do, however, provide protection against an aggressive, highly contagious and potentially deadly disease.

Measles typically cause high fever, cough, congestion and a rash that spreads all over the body. In a small portion of patients, it can lead to pneumonia or encephalitis, which can cause death and permanent disability, particularly among infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Even so, CDC data from 2013 show that 9 percent of California children aged 19-35 months had not received an MMR vaccination, including some 3 percent whose parents refused the immunization for philosophical or religious reasons.

That statistic undoubtedly contributed to the surprisingly widespread Disneyland outbreak. Of the 78 patients connected to the outbreak so far, about 80 percent had not been vaccinated.

South Carolina has an even lower toddler MMR immunization rate than California. About 11 percent of children under three years old had not received their first dose in 2013, according the CDC.

Effective eradication of measles requires about a 95 percent vaccination rate, because it is so contagious. Nonetheless, progress fighting measles has been remarkable in the decades since immunization became widespread. Cases have declined not just in the United States, but all across the globe.

Nearly 84 percent of children worldwide received at least one MMR shot before their first birthday in 2013, according to the World Health Organization.

It’s entirely possible that measles could be completely eradicated around the world in just a few generations.

But that requires parents to take their children to the doctor to get their shots.