The Grapevine

Measles Myths: As Outbreak Spreads, How To Keep Your Kids Safe

Last week, a public health emergency was declared by Washington Governor Jay Inslee due to the ongoing outbreak of measles. 36 confirmed cases and 11 suspected cases were reported by health officials as of January 28.

The rise in nonmedical vaccine exemptions plays an important role, as noted by Peter Hotez, a Baylor College of Medicine infectious diseases researcher. These exemptions have made Oregon and Washington "more susceptible to entirely preventable outbreaks," he told Vox. In order to stay safe, here are a few common myths, debunked.

"The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine causes autism"

To keep your child safe and strengthen herd immunity, be assured that there is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that vaccines cause autism. This myth was perpetuated thanks to a small 1998 study which used false data to suggest a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Since then, the findings of the study have been thoroughly debunked by scientists while the lead author, Andrew Wakefield, has been struck off the U.K. medical register for unethical behavior and misconduct.

"There are other natural methods to help prevent measles"

Do not fall for unscientific claims suggesting that "natural immunity" or "clean eating" can be effective preventative measures. Though hand washing is always a good habit to follow, that is not enough either. The measles virus is so contagious that it can live on surfaces and in the air for up to two hours.

Vaccination is the most effective preventative measure and there is data to show that it has saved millions of lives. As an exception, children with weakened immune systems should not get live virus vaccines. This is another reason why the rest of the community should be immunized i.e. to protect the few who cannot get vaccinated.

"A one-year-old child is probably too young to be vaccinated"

The MMR vaccine should be administered at 12 months of age, followed by a second dose at age 4 to 6. "People are delaying immunization for their children because they are concerned about this very small, precious 12-month-old," Dr. Neal Halsey of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told NBC News.

One in six children may develop a fever after their first dose of MMR vaccine, a risk which increases in children older than 12 months of age. "So it is not safer to delay. It is safer to give the vaccine on schedule," Halsey said.

"Adults do not have to worry about being infected by the virus"

Though it can be contracted at any age, there is a false belief that measles is strictly a childhood disease. While adults are at relatively lower risk, some people may require immunization due to their health care job or any other factor that increases harmful exposure.

According to Alix Casler, M.D., of Orlando Health Physician Enterprise, older adults could experience worse complications from measles in some cases. If you suspect that you may be at risk, speak to your doctor and find out how you can effectively protect yourself.

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