July 23, 2013 9:30 am
Prior to the release of the measles vaccine in 1963, hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. contracted the potentially deadly respiratory illness each year. Since the mid-1990s, cases have declined sharply, with just 37 incidences of the viral disease occurring in 2004. Now, however, the disease seems to be making a very slight rebound. In 2011, 222 people in the U.S. contracted measles. Then, in 2012, cases fell again to 54. But 2013 seems to be another measles-prone year, with 118 cases reported so far, many of them clustered among Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish communities. The Wall Street Journal reports:
In March, New York City health authorities saw a sudden rise in measles cases in several densely populated Orthodox Jewish communities.
The disease quickly spread. Among the 58 measles cases reported thus far, a child contracted pneumonia and two pregnant women were hospitalized, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. One of the women had a miscarriage.
Like many of the cases in the U.S. reported in recent years, the Brooklyn outbreaks seem to have originated from someone contracting the disease abroad and carrying it home—in this case, from London. Now, Orthodox Jewish communities are on the alert, and a push is underway to make sure all children receive their MMR vaccination to protect against the disease.
Developing countries are no stranger to the disease. In Pakistan, around 25,000 people have contracted measles this year, and 154 of those cases claimed their child victims. In such places, vaccines are often unavailable or prohibitively expensive (not, as in some American circles, avoided because of erroneous concerns about the MMR vaccine causing autism). From around 8,500 measles cases in the European Union over the past year, around 80 percent were contracted by people who had not been vaccinated. In the Brooklyn outbreak, all of the cases originated in unvaccinated people.
As the Wall Street Journal points out in another story on the toll of anti-vaccine activism, choosing to skip vaccines jeopardizes the health of the community since diseases such as measles are highly contagious.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.