(Update: If you’re interested in measles, and its behavior pre- and post-vaccination, I have a fairly detailed five-part series on the subject starting here.)

Susano-o no Mikoto making pact with spirits of disease
Susano-o no Mikoto making pact with spirits of measles
and other diseases
(Katsushika Hokusa / Soga, 1860.)
© The Trustees of the British Museum

It’s happening again; vaccinations have been so successful that Americans are becoming complacent and forget what “disease” is.  Snake-oil pedlars and profiteers are selling alarmism, people decide not to vaccinate, and, guess what, diseases surge back.  The latest preventable outbreak is measles;1  there are already over 130 measles cases in the first half of this year, twice the annual average for the past decade. And these are local cases, not imports; for the first time in years, most of these cases, some 85%, are not imported.2

These cases are being spread by the unvaccinated; by people who, from fear, apathy, or ignorance, have avoided getting their child vaccinated.

What did measles look like before vaccination? Here’s a chart showing case numbers before and after vaccination in the mid-1960s.  Note the scale, in hundreds of thousands of annual cases.

Measles cases, USA

But measles is an amusing and harmless childhood disease, isn’t it?

Measles deaths

That’s not showing the permanently brain-damaged survivors (about twice as many as deaths), or the  thousands of hospitalizations.

Of the 131 cases in this year’s outbreaks, “112 (91%) were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. Among these 112 patients, 95 (85%) were eligible for vaccination, and 63 (66%) of those were unvaccinated because of philosophical or religious beliefs.”1

I don’t know about those 63 peoples’ parents, but personally I’m philosophically opposed to having my children risk a lifetime of brain damage.

  1. Update: Measles — United States, January–July 2008. MMWR August 22, 2008 57(33);893-896 [][]
  2. Though imported measles cases were the origin of most of the outbreaks, brought in from abroad and spreading through unvaccinated Americans.[]