Multiple outbreaks of the measles virus in the United States and across the globe have resulted in a worldwide spike of cases.
In the United States alone, there have been 704 cases of the , breaking a 25-year record. The United Kingdom has also seen an increase in measles cases in recent years, with at least 32 diagnosed just in the Manchester area this year.
These outbreaks are particularly concerning for infants, who are especially vulnerable to the highly contagious virus and too young to be immunized.
The virus is easily transmitted and can remain in the air for two hours after a person infected with measles has left the area.
Jilly Moss, a mother in the United Kingdom, recently experienced the measles outbreak firsthand. Moss’ infant daughter, Alba, contracted the measles before she was old enough to get vaccinated.
Moss shared a series of photos on Facebook detailing her baby’s painful, life-threatening battle with the measles.
“We just want to share our story and show people how poorly babies and vulnerable people can become with the virus. Alba is recovering well from it, but other babies and children have not been so lucky,” Moss told Healthline.
The infant was admitted to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London for eight days, where doctors worked around the clock to treat Alba and bring her back to good health. While the hospital wouldn’t comment on a patient’s condition, they didn’t dispute Moss’ account.
“It has been absolutely horrific watching our daughter fight this with her eyes swollen shut for 4 days. She has been in the dark, scared with a high fever that lasted for over two weeks,” Moss wrote on Facebook.
Moss added that the infection could have been prevented if more children older than Alba had been vaccinated.
She said she’s sharing her story to encourage more parents to get their children vaccinated.
There are a couple reasons why the measles is especially dangerous to infants, according to health experts.
First off, the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine doesn’t work as well in infants under 1. This is because antibodies are transferred from the mother to the baby, and though this can provide some protection, it makes the shot less effective, according to the (CDC).
Both the United States and the United Kingdom recommend getting the first dose around 1 year of age and the second between 4 to 6 years of age.
“Because the measles virus is so contagious (a person with active measles will infect 9 out of every 10 non-immune individuals they encounter), this leaves newborns at a high risk of contracting the disease if cases are present in the community,” said Dr. Bernhard L. Wiedermann, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Children’s National Health System and professor of pediatrics with the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Secondly, because infants’ immune systems aren’t fully developed, they tend to experience more severe cases of the measles along with more dangerous complications — such as pneumonia, encephalitis (an infection of the brain tissue), seizures, and death.
Because of this, the measles — and any other complications that may occur — are much more difficult to manage in younger children.
“For a doctor, it is scarier to have a 2- or 3-month old infant in the hospital as compared to a 2- or 3-year-old toddler. The infant has fewer reserves, it is harder for the staff to manage the medications and IV fluids, and the infection can spread to other parts of the body more easily,” said Dr. Jamie Loehr, a family physician with Cayuga Family Medicine in Ithaca, New York.
The MMR vaccine doesn’t just protect you, but it helps protect others who are more susceptible to contracting the measles — such as infants and people who have compromised immune systems.
The shot is extremely safe and effective. The first dose of the MMR vaccine protects 93 percent of recipients, while the second dose protects 97 percent, according to the CDC.
“The most important way to protect fragile members of the community from measles is to not get the disease in the first place, and the best way to do that is to get the measles vaccine,” Loehr explained.
In order for an “umbrella of immunity” to take effect and fully protect a community, nearly 95 percent of the population must be vaccinated.
This high level of vaccination creates “herd immunity,” which prevents an infectious disease from spreading in a community, since most people will be immune.
Due to misinformation, growing skepticism about vaccines, and lack of access, however, vaccination levels have been plummeting year after year.
According to the , vaccine hesitancy is a huge threat, as it reverses the progress we’ve made in controlling vaccine-preventable diseases, such as the measles.
A new study published by UNICEF found that nearly half a million children in the United Kingdom hadn’t received the MMR vaccine.
Additionally, on a list of the top 10 high-income countries, the United States had the highest number of children who didn’t have their first dose of the MMR vaccine.
These startling vaccination gaps have paved the way for the surges in measles outbreaks taking place across the globe.
In order to beat the outbreaks and keep vulnerable populations safe, vaccination coverage must increase so we can create that protective “umbrella of immunity.”
“Most of the public has never seen the ravages of the measles. And this is a very good thing,” Wiedermann said. “If we step up immunizations now, none of us need to see a case like this child’s again.”
A mother in the United Kingdom shared a series of photos on Facebook detailing her baby’s painful, life-threatening battle with the measles. The infant contracted the measles before she was old enough to get vaccinated.
In order to protect vulnerable populations like infants, about 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated.