State public health departments across the country are sounding the alarm about measles, warning the public that vaccinations save lives and family who don’t vaccinate their children endanger others. Vaccines provide what is known as “herd protection.” Recent outbreaks of measles in at least 11 states from coast-to-coast remind us that diseases thought basically eradicated in the Unites States are making a comeback.

This illustration provides a 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle that is studded with glycoprotein tubercles. “Measles starts with fever, runny nose, cough, red, watery eyes and sore throat. It’s followed by a rash that spreads over the body. Measles virus is highly contagious and spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing. It can have serious complications.” Image courtesy the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles was thought to be eradicated in 2000 in the United States. But as of April 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there have been 704 confirmed cases of measles since Jan. 1 spread from coast to coast. This surpasses the record of 667 cases set in 2014.

This is happening as a vast swath of Americans are foregoing vaccinations, primarily from younger generations (Gen X and Millennials) which have never experienced massive public outbreaks.

Measles, along with mumps and rubella are the three serious and highly infectious diseases addressed in the vaccine commonly called MMR. This child-bearing age group hasn’t experienced how serious these diseases can be. Some 25 percent of those who contract measles are hospitalized. Measles can cause sterility, blindness, ear infections, extreme dehydration, pneumonia, acute encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and death. It can have long term health effects including immune suppression.

Chaffee County Director of Public Health Andrea Carlstrom says the outbreaks are a blunt reminder of our state’s vulnerability. “For the 2017-18 school year, Colorado’s vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) ranked 49th out of the 49 states, with a coverage rate of 88.7 percent for two doses of MMR,” said Carlstrom.

“Only 78.51 to 82.8 percent of 19 to 35-month-old children received the standard or two-visit MMR vaccine in our county,” said Carlstrom. “We need 95 percent coverage in an area to prevent a measles outbreak. While the difference may seem small, it’s the difference between sickness and health for infants, for those who have compromised immune systems and pregnant women.”

“Vaccines are largely a victim of their success,” said author and infectious disease physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Paul Offit. “If you don’t fear the disease, you’re more likely to fear the vaccine.”

Recent anti-vaccine campaigns and social media myths have perpetuated what has come to be called the anti-vaxx movement. Investigators have found evidence that Russian hackers have been behind some of the anti-vaccine messaging, pushing social media stories that question the government’s role in encouraging vaccination protection. When viewed in the context of Russia’s goal of generating public distrust of government efforts while sewing social discord, the effort has been successful.

“When Jenny McCarthy [TV actress and the prominent face of the anti-vaxx movement] gets on TV and says ‘I’ll take the measles every time,’ that tells you something important,” says Offit. “It shows me that not only have we eliminated measles, but we’ve eliminated the memory of measles.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment verifies that Colorado is at the bottom nationwide for the percentage of children in kindergarten vaccinated against diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella. A link to an earlier article on this topic is available here at