Parents should be aware that in the United States, measles is on the rise.

In fact, the number of cases that have been reported thus far (sixty-four between the months January and April of 2008) is greater than the total number reported for the entire year of 2006, and is the largest number in the first four months of the year since 2001.

None of the cases have been fatal, but as summer approaches and kids prepare to head off to summer camp, doctors anticipate that the numbers will only rise.

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can be easily spread by a cough or sneeze from an infected person. Furthermore, the virus that causes measles is stable for up to two hours after leaving the body, so a person can be exposed to the disease without ever coming in contact with the contagious individual.

According to the World Health Organization (, measles is the leading cause of death in young children, despite a readily available vaccine. There are some 22 million cases a year worldwide, which claim the lives of 242,000 children. In the United States, the disease has been kept in check by a widespread program of immunization.

The recent outbreaks in this country have been traced to overseas travelers who bring the virus in with them. The disease then spreads easily amongst people who have not been vaccinated, either because they are too young or because they have willingly declined them for a number of reasons, including the fear that vaccines are linked to autism. For more discussion on this, see Lori Kerrigan’s post Are Vaccines and Autism Linked? (

Even though the jury is still out this connection, there is no shortage of controversy. On one side of the debate you have the medical establishment who cites a growing body of evidence that refutes the link to autism. On the other side, there are the critics who express valid concerns over the current system, including the sheer number of vaccinations being given to each child.

In the end, regardless of how you see it, there is one irrefutable fact: vaccines have saved countless lives the world over from numerous diseases. One of the great ironies in all of this is that vaccination programs ultimately suffer from their own success. Having wiped out scourges such as polio and smallpox, some people might question why there is even a need for them anymore, and as a consequence, decline the immunizations for their children.

Whatever the reason for refusing them, the problem arises when an non-vaccinated person (children are especially vulnerable) is exposed to the disease. When this occurs on a large scale, the public health implications are clear.

For this reason, it’s important for parents to get the facts and find out as much as possible before making any final decisions. Check out the CDC website ( and talk to your primary care physician.

Knowledge, after all, is power, and will go a long way to helping you maintain the health and safety of your family.