BURLINGTON, Vt. -
Measles was declared eliminated in this country in 2000, but the disease is back. A couple of young adults who traveled to the Philippines to help rebuild after a typhoon, got the measles and carried the illness back to the United States.
It's spreading. Outbreaks are reported in nearly 20 states including Massachusetts and New York. Health officials say it's only a matter of time until the measles make it to Vermont.
The woman on the front line of the fight is Dr. Anne Schuchat. She's an assistant surgeon general and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.
Dr. Anne Schuchat: We recommend vaccines not to just protect an individual but to protect those who can't be vaccinated themselves. Babies under a year can't get the measles vaccine routinely because it doesn't work in them. They really depend on their older brothers and sisters and their community being vaccinated to protect them. Kids with leukemia can't get vaccinated against measles because the vaccine is a live virus. They really depend on their classmates and neighbors being vaccinated so they won't get life threatening complications. So, the population’s vaccination is very important. But personally I think it's important for parents to have good information to know what are the benefits and the risks of vaccines and what are the risks of not being vaccinated. There are real risks associated with that.
Reporter Darren Perron: Let's talk about those. If parents opt out, fearing the vaccine itself could make their kids sick, what do you say to those parents?
Schuchat: To me it's extremely important that when we vaccinate we are making sure that vaccines are as safe as possible. Because we are vaccinating healthy people we absolutely don't want to make things worse. Based on everything I know, studying vaccines, studying risks and benefits, I strongly recommend vaccination. I think there are a lot of rumors out there about possible complications, the question of autism has been raised. There have been dozens of studies and there is no link between vaccines and autism. I know parents want to do the right thing for their kids and I want them to have the best information possible. To help protect their children.
Perron: What is the likelihood that measles will make its way into Vermont?
Schuchat: Our last outbreak was back in 1993. Measles is a plane ride away and you don't have to get on that plane. People with measles are traveling. The U.S. is at a 20 year high. We have had 566 cases so far this year. The largest is 300 in a community that hadn't been vaccinating. In Vermont, you have some communities where people haven't been vaccinated against measles, I don't know why, possibly thinking this disease is gone. But it is around us and while most people will recover from measles, not everybody will.
Perron: How dangerous is the measles?
Schuchat: Measles virus is the most infectious agent out there. If you are in a stadium and you haven't had measles or the vaccine and you are susceptible to measles, it's going to find you 9 out of 10 susceptible people will get this infection. Most have a high fever and rash and they recover. But about 10 percent can be hospitalized. People can get pneumonia. They can get encephalitus and they can die. While most people will recover, we don't know which is the person that isn't going to. There's also the risk of spreading measles to someone who is more vulnerable.
One dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has a high efficacy rate at 95 percent. A second bumps it to 98 percent.