Measles: Hazard or History?

Graphic by Carolyn Duan. 

On Sept. 27, 2016, the Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) declared a historic achievement—the eradication of measles from the American subcontinents.

Measles, also known as Rubeola, is a viral infection that can be caught from direct and indirect contact with victims. According to Mayo Clinic, the disease includes simple symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, fever but most distinctly, a blotchy, red rash. While it is easily preventable through vaccination, once contracted, the disease is almost impossible to eliminate.

After a 22-year-long campaign, the eradication of an extremely contagious disease is nothing short of extraordinary.

“This historic milestone would never have been possible without the strong political commitment of our Member States,” PAHO/WHO Director Carissa F. Etienne told Science Daily, “in ensuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines.”

Claiming almost 2.6 million lives annually by 1980, the deaths due to measles have gone down rapidly over the last few decades due to campaign measures. Within recent years, American-born cases of measles are extremely rare.

“I would like to emphasize that our work on this front is not yet done,” Etienne said. “We can not become complacent with this achievement but must rather protect it carefully. It is critical that we continue to maintain high vaccination coverage rates, and it is crucial that any suspected measles cases be immediately reported to the authorities for rapid follow-up.”

Eradication does not mean immunity. Measles still prevails as the leading cause of death for children worldwide, according to the WHO. The disease is still prevalent in continents such as Africa and Asia, with a death rate of almost 314 each day. Yet the need for vaccines is constantly questioned.

A survey conducted among MVHS students revealed that 61.3 percent of students think that major measles epidemics broke out pre-1950, time periods much farther than when the illness was an actual threat. 58.1 percent also said they would not be concerned with the disease in particular, and almost a quarter claimed that they would not be vaccinated for measles.

The survey ultimately revealed that most MVHS students consider themselves safe under the false assumption of measles being an older disease. Many students also do not have too much interest in taking extra measures for protecting themselves, as the survey also showed that the majority of surveyors only have a moderate concern over catching popular diseases.

For junior Anita Narkhede however, vaccinations mean precaution. Having taken the measles vaccination, Narkhede gave some thought about recommending others to take it as well.

I don’t think that MVHS students worry about contracting diseases.” Narkhede said, “In our community, it’s pretty rare, so no one really considers the possibility of catching them. It’s always good to at least take the precaution and because it’s extremely simple to get the vaccination, you might as well.”

Sophomore Akriti Khandelwal shares a similar opinion, stating that it is important to be vaccinated for measles.

“We know that the disease is contagious and so many people migrate to America every year.” Khandelwal said, “And even though we all get our health tests done and all before we travel, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

In addition to student recommendations for being vaccinated, school staff members also expressed their opinion. MVHS math teacher Martin Jennings discussed his experience with the contagious disease and his advice for the student population.

“We didn’t have [measles] vaccinations then, in the ‘60’s. I think I had measles and mumps, and I remember my dad had one or the other when we had it.” Jennings said, “It’s not a very fun thing to have.”

While advising students to be vaccinated for measles, Jennings also commented about MVHS students concern over not only their own well-being, but other’s as well.

“Sometimes when people come to school and they’re sick, I think that they’re kind of being a little inconsiderate. Maybe they feel like they can establish boundaries to not get others sick, but that’s a little hard to do.” Jennings said, “As a teacher, that’s sometimes a challenge for me because there are times when I felt like I’m getting what this other kid brought.”

It all comes down to one request: take the necessary precaution to protect yourself and others. Regardless of whether certain illnesses are rarer than others, whether they are contagious or not, make an attempt to put up some barriers. While measles is currently gone from our continent, as PAHO/WHO requests, we must get vaccinations to maintain this state.

Illness may not be the largest concern for our society. The issue might be a nearly terminal disease like measles, or it might be the common cold, but at least for MVHS, it’s time to pay a little more attention to keeping everyone healthy.