Over the last few weeks, many reports have suggested that there are measles outbreaks occurring at airports throughout the US. While outbreaks can be alarming, these have been mostly paranoia rather than fact.
I had ignored headlines for weeks until one for my home airport came across my news feed just after landing in Pittsburgh. Another from Newark on the same day (perhaps this was the inbound before connecting to Pittsburgh) was reported. One more case at LAX in close proximity to the others outlines the dates and times of potential exposure, the third exposure at LAX in recent months.
At least one flight attendant has fallen seriously ill in connection with these listed outbreaks. She had been in a coma for ten days and doctors are still hoping for a full recovery, but some damage may be long term. Contracting the disease is serious, dangerous, and has affected the travel community.
Travelers From Overseas
In both the Pittsburgh and Newark incidents, affected parties were foreign visitors to the United States and likely brought the disease with them. Forecasted foreign visitors to the US this year is estimated to approach 81 million, an average of more than 220,000 every single day.
While some may consider this to be a part of the recent US movement of “anti-vaxxers” (those who choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children out of concern for the ingredients of the vaccine or potential side effects), the recent case cited above have come from outside the country. However, those who do not have the vaccine anywhere are at risk for contracting Measles if they were exposed in these locations. Unvaccinated parties that come into contact with the disease have a 90% chance of infection.
Incidents Are Isolated and Statistically Nominal
While this year is on pace to be the highest year of Measles infections in recent history, its reach remains isolated. Even at 557 cases for the year, it’s still far from the mass panic that “Airport Measles Outbreak” posts have created earning column space and Facebook group lore across the country. In fact, according to the CDC, the last death reported death prior to 2019 (a single case) was in 2015 – another single death.
As you can see, cases have been relatively limited but do fluctuate from year-to-year with spike years in 2014 and this year.
Vaccination Reduces Risk
Despite the fact that most Americans are vaccinated, some by choice have chosen not to vaccinate themselves or their children. Some come from countries where this is not as widely an assumed practice. The vaccine for Measles, MMR, is 88-97% effective depending on the quantity and timing of dosage and whether it’s treating Measles, Mumps or Rubella.
“Measles is so contagious that 90% of unvaccinated people who come in contact with an infected person will get the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The measles two-dose vaccine is 97% effective against the virus, according to the CDC.”
Additionally, if one contracts the disease, survival rates are very high, especially in the United States. This is not an epidemic.
Regardless of the question of vaccination, a hotly debated issue in the US as of late, the Airport Measles Outbreak outrage is little more than paranoia. Cases are elevated but not catastrophically above spikes in previous cycles. Reported cases have mostly been treated successfully, and deaths related to the disease in the US remain extremely rare.
What do you think? Is the media responding out of proportion to Measles cases by people that have transited airports? Rather, is it so serious that the response is justified? Should coverage be somewhere in between?
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