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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Measles Outbreak in Arizona Likely Fueled by Vaccine Refusals

By Phil Plait

The largest outbreak of measles this year is occurring right now in Arizona. There have been 22 confirmed cases so far since late May. Up to that point, there were only 19 cases in the entire country in 2016.

The outbreak is attributed to the Eloy Detention Center, a privately run federal immigration detention center. This doesn’t surprise me; measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but people traveling to the U.S. (including Americans returning from foreign countries) are the biggest source of outbreaks. Disneyland was the epicenter of a measles outbreak in 2015 for just this reason.

The likely carrier in the Arizona situation was a migrant, but the problem was amplified by unvaccinated employees at the facility. The detainees have been cooperative and received vaccinations, but apparently many of the employees have been refusing or haven’t shown proof of vaccination.

It’s not clear why. Perhaps they’re simply anti-vaxxers, unable or unwilling to accept the reality that vaccines are one of the safest medical modalities available; their huge benefits far, far outweigh their very small risk. The vast majority of claims by anti-vaxxers are false. They don’t cause autism. They aren’t loaded with toxins. And on and on.

Remember too that the modern anti-vax movement started due to a discredited doctor who fraudulently connected vaccines with autism, performed unethical tests on children (!!), and had a tremendous conflict of interest. Still, it’s taken hold in various communities, and anti-vaccination tendencies have caused many outbreaks around the world, including in the U.S.

I hope this Arizona outbreak doesn’t get any worse, but measles is highly contagious and the workers who aren’t vaccinated could very easily spread it to the public at large. An infection from measles can result in high fever, but in children it can produce much more devastating complications, including permanent hearing loss, pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death. If you live in Arizona read up on the symptoms and be cautious.

Please talk to your doctor and check to see if you need your vaccination (usually given as an MMR combination with mumps and rubella). The people most at risk are infants too young to be vaccinated, and people with compromised immune systems; for example, those undergoing chemotherapy, or who have auto-immune diseases. A family member of mine has the latter, so for me this is personal. I’m up-to-date with all my shots, and so is everyone in my immediate family. We walk the walk.

Vaccines work. They wiped out smallpox globally, and polio is on its way out as well. Rubella has been eliminated in the Americas, too. Measles was stopped dead in its tracks once in this country. Let’s make it happen again.

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