baby-O-e13075541951481There’s a beautiful story of success tucked away in the recent measles outbreak in the United States. Sometimes we forget to talk about it. When measles popped up at Disneyland in December 2014, it made headlines as the public remained thirsty for the media’s support in understanding who was at risk and why. I spoke to dozens of media outlets about the outbreak, under-vaccinated populations, the MMR vaccine, and how to protect those most vulnerable during an outbreak. We all emphasized those at biggest risk: infants too young to be immunized, those who were unvaccinated, or those too ill to be vaccinated. Measles is an illness I would be terrified to get — and I don’t like that people who aren’t protected are at risk for both catching the disease and spreading it. I think the public gets this in new ways although I hate that it takes outbreaks to capture attention and drive this education and understanding.

Measles virus, and the vaccine we have to prevent it, form a unique pair because although measles is wildly infectious and can be life-threatening the immunization is wildly effective and life-saving (>99% of those immunized are protected for life). It is a safe vaccine with minimal side effects. What a fortune and a triumph in prevention medicine. A terrible disease, once thought to be eradicated in the U.S., is swiftly prevented by a vaccine that nearly everyone in the population can get after their 1st birthday.

The beautiful story from the outbreak is this:

There were tens of thousands of children and adults potentially exposed to measles virus who have walked away without any incident. It’s hard to estimate how many specific people were exposed at Disney and in their home communities. But I mean, BOOM!, that is a medical innovation, distribution, and public health swan song. The public milled around Disney and in home towns all over the United States with infectious measles in the air and they stayed perfectly healthy. They didn’t get an infection nor did they spread it to young infants or others who are unprotected. The media has focused on under-vaccinated populations, those who are hesitant or opted-out of vaccination, and risks from measles infection while the story of success of those immunized has remained a tiny bit hidden. Measles virus didn’t cause any trouble to thousands and thousands exposed. This is a success; it’s something we can think on and share with our friends. MMR vaccine is safe and effective and it did wonders at Disney.

“Measles In Disneyland” By The Numbers

  • 1 person. The outbreak is believed to have been started by an unvaccinated visitor to either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure between December 15th – December 20th, 2014.
  • There are more than 20,000 employees working at both parks and the Disney hotels.
  • Unfortunately 5 Disney employees contracted the disease after the exposure.
  • 30,000 – 40,000 people walk through the Disney parks every day.
  • Since January 1st, 166 people have been diagnosed with measles in the US, 147 were tied to the Disney outbreak. The outbreak was officially declared over on April 24, 2015. Measles has been circulating around our country; there were over 600 cases of measles in the United States in 2014.

Thousands of people exposed who didn’t get measles during this outbreak. Likely tens of thousands of immunized children and adults.  That’s just counting the Disneyland visitors! We have to remember that people with measles returned to 7 different states where they interacted with family, friends and fellow travelers. Take for instance the state of California, with 131 confirmed measles cases, it is by far the state with the largest number of infected individuals spread across the state. With a state population of 38.8 million, there’s no telling how many people they came in contact with while contagious. The fact that only 147 people out of potentially many thousands actually contracted measles is something to be excited about. Living proof of the MMR vaccine’s documented effectiveness.

The MMR Vaccine

The MMR vaccine protects your child from getting measles, mumps or rubella. Two doses of the MMR vaccine have proven to be more than 99% effective in protecting children and adults from measles infection for a lifetime. The protection is immense, a person with active measles will otherwise likely infect 90% of those around them who are not immunizedIt seems the Disneyland outbreak may have brought this realization to light, at least in the state of Washington. Between December and February, MMR vaccinations jumped 27 percent, something health officials credit to the increased attention to the disease after the outbreak. Most notably, in Clallum COunty, where 5 of Washington’s 8 measles cases were reported, immunization rates increased 316 percent during that time, mostly among children 5 and younger.

There is a small part of the population that is unable to be vaccinated for MMR. Most notably, infants under the age of 1 year. Here’s a post on Protecting Infants From Measles that includes information about maternal antibodies and protection and timing for vaccination.

It comes down to is this: this outbreak should give us a sense of optimism. Vaccines cause optimism. By focusing on the number of people who could have been infected we can give credit to the public health system and the advances being made to keep us healthier, longer. In my mind this is, in part, a wild success story.

This post was written as part of the #ProtectingKids blog series. Read the whole series here.