Fourteen years ago, the virus that causes measles in children was so rare in the United States that it was considered eradicated. Although it continued to exact a terrible toll in other countries — an estimated 164,000 people around the world per year — one of the most infectious childhood diseases was but a bad memory here.
Mandatory childhood vaccinations enforced by parents, schools and health clinics had turned the tide and kept a major disease at bay. In 2011, there were 220 cases reported in the United States, followed by 54 in 2012. Then, last year, the total spiked to 187. In the early months of 2014, about 70 cases have been identified.
Most Americans favor childhood inoculations, but health officials blame the rise in measles cases on vaccination skeptics. Some parents have unfounded fears that the vaccine will trigger autism in their children, so they shun the shots that keep children safe.
Recently public health officials in New York City urged people to get their children inoculated, after at least 16 cases of measles, in adults and children, had been identified in Manhattan and the Bronx. Four of the people have been hospitalized.
In February, Allegheny County identified its first case of measles since 2009, which was apparently contracted in New York. But on Friday, the county health department said the incubation period had elapsed and it appeared that no one else had caught the disease. That’s good news for now, but vigilance is important.
Measles was a common childhood disease that just about every American household survived, then the nation promptly ignored. But it’s not child’s play. Americans who care about their children’s health — and the health of their communities — need to get their children vaccinated.