First North American Measles Death Since 2003

A cell with measles pneumonia. CDC/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr.

For the first time in twelve years the United States has experienced a death from measles. You know, that disease that had pretty much been wiped out before the anti-vaccination movement brought it back. The tragic news comes less than a week after the first death from diphtheria in Spain in 28 years, also a direct result of the lies spread by anti-vaccinators.

In the Spanish case, the boy who died had not been protected against the disease because his parents had been “tricked” by opponents of the process. The situation is somewhat different for the Clallam County, Washington, woman who has now died of measles.

The woman in this case suffered from a compromised immune system, as a result of the medications she was taking for other conditions, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Consequently, she was vulnerable to infectious diseases, and relied on the herd immunity of the wider community to protect her.

As a result of increased numbers of people refusing to vaccinate their children, most often because they have believed myths spread by anti-vaccine campaigners, this herd immunity is falling. This has led to outbreaks such as the one spread at Disneyland last year. It also led to a person with a rash, which was later found to be measles, attending the same healthcare clinic as the dead woman. It is suspected that this was where the infection took place.

“This tragic situation illustrates the importance of immunizing as many people as possible to provide a high level of community protection against measles,” said Washington State Department of Health spokesperson Donn Moyer . “People with compromised immune systems cannot be vaccinated against measles. Even when vaccinated, they may not have a good immune response when exposed to disease; they may be especially vulnerable to disease outbreaks.”

Unusually, the Clallam woman did not show easily recognized symptoms of measles such as a rash. Consequently, it was only at the autopsy that health officials realized that the cause of death was measles-induced pneumonia. To protect her identity, the woman's age has not been released, but her compromised immune system was not the result of age.

Washington health officials have urged vaccination, stating, “If you’re not protected, you can get measles just by walking into a room where someone with the disease has been in the past couple of hours.” The contrast with Ebola, a disease that is actually quite hard to catch yet arouses far more fear, is striking. Alternatively, you can take your medical advice from a pretend pet detective.

Clallam County has now experienced six cases of measles this year, with another five elsewhere in Washington. All Clallam County cases, including the woman who died, are of the D9 strain of measles. Recent outbreaks have been even more widespread in Canada, but there have so far been no deaths as a result.

H/T Io9 

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