Thanks to the debunked theories that have been perpetuated by celebrities and pseudoscience websites, only about 51% of Americans believe that vaccines are “safe and effective.”
The latest CDC data shows the troubling resurgence of diseases that have been declared eliminated. Anti-vaxxers are gleefully and self-righteously turning back the clock on decades of breakthroughs in public health.
A common refrain we hear from anti-vaxxers is that “measles isn’t that big of a deal.”
“Why is it that people are making this choice? I think the answer is that they don’t fear the disease,” Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics told BuzzFeed. “They haven’t lived through an epidemic.”
Parents who don’t vaccinate their kids live in a 21st Century first-world society that hasn’t had to bear the mass outbreak of disease. Having no real experience to draw from, their ignorance is reinforced even more. So BuzzFeed asked the question, “What does measles actually look like?”
Here’s a look:
Measles spreads through the air.
When someone infected with the measles coughs or sneezes, they spew droplets of virus that can live for up to two hours. “Small droplets hang in the air, like a ghost,” Offit said.
If you breathe them in, the virus lodges itself in your throat and lungs. There it multiplies and spreads through the rest of the body.
Symptoms typically begin with a runny nose, 104+ degree fever, a cough, and red, watery eyes.
Then come the mouth sores.
After several days, small blue-white bumps (known as “Koplik spots”) begin to appear on the inside of the cheeks.
And then that rash.
After another few days comes measles’ characteristic red rash. It begins at the hairline and spreads across the face and neck. The rash spreads downward and outward to the rest of the body, hands, and feet, and turns brown.
Symptoms may also include a loss of appetite and avoidance of light.
“The easiest way to tell if something is measles is to ask, how miserable is this child?” Offit said. “Children with measles are inconsolable.”
For most people, the infection ends after 10 to 12 days. But for an unlucky few, it gets much worse.
According to data collected in the 1990s by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
About 8% of cases get diarrhea, leading to dehydration.
Another 7% get an ear infection, which can lead to deafness.
About 6% come down with pneumonia, a lung infection, making it hard to breathe. When people die of measles, it’s usually from pneumonia.
About 0.6% — 1 in 167 — will get seizures.
About 0.1% — that’s 1 in 1,000 — will get acute encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, which can lead to headaches, vomiting, a stiff neck, convulsions, and coma. About 15% of these people die.
Recovery isn’t fun, either.
For every 100,000 cases of measles, about 7 will eventually get subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).
SSPE is a severe brain inflammation that happens 7 to 10 years after recovering from measles. It leads to muscle spasms, seizures, dementia, personality changes, and death.
For this 21-year-old in Myanmar [above], measles caused blindness.The death rate is low.
Before the measles vaccine existed, 3 to 4 million people contracted measles each year. Of these, 48,000 were hospitalized and about 500 died.
Thanks to the vaccine, the U.S. rarely sees a measles death anymore. But that could change if these outbreaks persist.
“Measles is not just the provence of the undernourished child in Africa,” Offit said. “Healthy children in the United States can die of measles — there’s plenty of evidence for that.”