Bioethics Blogs

New York’s Measles Outbreak: Take Off Your Shoes and Roll Up Your Sleeve

Today’s New York Times reported a rare outbreak of measles in New York City. Because the disease was mostly eradicated by 2000, most clinicians were baffled by the high fevers, rash, and respiratory ailments associated with the illness.

 I remember measles well. My sister came  home from school red, itchy, and feverish. The next morning I woke, delighted to be covered with red dots,  able to stay home from school  and watch Captain Kangaroo. This was 1964 and catching measles was an accepted ritual of childhood along with mumps and chicken pox. I am fairly sure none of us realized that measles carried potentially dangerous complications that include pneumonia, brain inflammation and possibly death.  

The recent measles outbreak should be a wake-up call for both clinicians and patients to take their immunizations seriously. According to the Center for Disease Control, most measles enters the United States by citizens who recently traveled abroad, as well as foreign visitors coming into the country. Meanwhile a longstanding controversy in the U.S. concerns parents who choose to not have their children vaccinated for fear that the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine causes autism.

 The most recent studies performed here and abroad have not found a link to autism. A single study from Britain published in The Lancet 1998 linked the MMR vaccine with autism. The journal retracted the study on grounds of scientific misconduct and financial conflicts of interest and the results have not been replicated. Unfortunately, the repercussions from the study continue to negatively influence parent’ attitudes toward vaccination.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.