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SINGH: We must confront dangerous vaccination misinformation

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It has been confirmed that the United States has hit the second-highest level of measles cases in 25 years. This year alone holds 626 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is an astounding 71-case increase from the numbers the agency reported last week in its weekly update. Since January, the number of reported measles cases has increased every week, with the lowest being seven cases in January, and the highest being 90 in the week of April 11. 

Measles is a highly contagious disease that causes a respiratory infection that affects the whole body by causing a skin rash as well as other flu-related symptoms. Also known as rubeola, measles is caused by a virus and thus there is no specific treatment for it. Bacterial infections including strep throat, chlamydia and ear infections can easily be fought using antibiotics whereas viral infections such as measles, the common cold, HIV/AIDS and the flu have no easy cure. 

These viral infections must be fought by the individual's own immune system, but vaccines can help prevent the individual from getting the viral disease in the first place. With there being a measles outbreak, it is important to know the symptoms of the disease. This includes high fevers, cough, runny nose and pink eye (conjunctivitis). Two to 3 days after these initial symptoms begin, Koplik spots, which are tiny and white in color, begin to appear inside of the mouth. 

Three to 5 days after these symptoms, there is a rash formation which typically begins at the base of the hairline and proceeds downward to the neck, torso, arms, legs and feet. When the rash forms, the individual's fever can rise higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. As mentioned before, rubeola is a highly contagious virus and 9 out of 10 people who are not vaccinated will contract it if they are in the vicinity of an infected individual. 

The disease spreads when people have direct contact or breathe in virus-infected fluid. This fluid can be passed through a sneeze or cough and someone who is exposed to the disease will typically show symptoms 1 to 2 weeks later. The best preventative measure you can take to avoid contracting the virus is to get vaccinated. 

Those that have received the vaccine may recall getting the MMR shot at the doctors which is given in two doses (at the age of 12 to 15 months and at the age of 4 to 6 years) which prevents measles, mumps and rubella. All three of these are infectious diseases that can cause severe illnesses. The vaccination has a strong success rate at which more than 95% of individuals who receive it will be protected from all three diseases for the rest of their lives. 

If a strong preventative measure exists, then why are such a large number of individuals getting infected? This surge in numbers is mostly due to a growing rate of unvaccinated children across the country. This specific population is vulnerable to the virus because their parents have refused to get them immunized. Some reasoning behind the refusal is outdated religious practices while other parents have fallen victim to vaccine misinformation, such as the false belief that vaccines are linked to autism. 

“More bad news,” said Peter Hotez, an infectious-disease expert at the Baylor College of Medicine, in a Twitter post about the new CDC numbers. “A totally unnecessary and self-inflicted wound, and a direct consequence of an aggressive anti-vax misinformation campaign.”

Anti-vaxxers have spread the virus to babies outside of their communities. Even if the parents of these babies want to get their infant immunized, they are medically unable to do so until the baby's first birthday. This is not the only situation in which an individual cannot receive a vaccination. Other situations include children being born with HIV, those who are undergoing chemotherapy, need an organ transplantation or simply have a weak immune system that cannot handle the MMR vaccination in the first place. 

These are all individuals who are at risk of contracting this malicious disease at the hands of anti-vaxxers, through no fault of their own. It is saddening to know that although a strong preventative measure exists, the choice to not use it can cause others to suffer. Part of the reason is ignorance that stems from blindly following traditions, which is seen in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City. This community has particularly been hit hard because it contains children who have been under-vaccinated due to anti-vaccination misinformation that has rapidly spread. 

Therefore, it is highly imperative to educate yourself and those around you using proven sources to prevent such simple outbreaks. What is particularly mind blowing is the facts that measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000. What is terrifying is the fact that measles is one of the most maliciously infectious diseases known to mankind. It is so infectious that an unvaccinated baby can contract it by merely entering a room in which a measle-infected person had been 2 hours ago. This epidemic is no joke and vaccination efforts have to be seriously pursued.

Harleen Singh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. Her column, "Here's to Your Health,"  runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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