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Measles in not your ordinary childhood disease.

Time was when measles was just another of those things that every kid got sooner or later--and better sooner, to get it over with. Then along came the measles vaccine, and another bothersome disease disappeared from the face of the earth. Or so it seemed to many in Philadelphia, until the disease began sweeping through that city last year, infecting more than 500 people in a few months and killing 6 children, the firs recorded deaths from measles in 20 years.

"People just lost sight of how serious measles can be," says Dr. Robert Levenson, of the city's health department. "Most young parents are immunized and never knew anyone who had the disease." Unfortunately, the group most at risk is that of preschoolers, and in many large cities, less than half of children in this age group have been vaccinated. Although only one in 10,000 Americans had measles last year, five children younger than age five came down with it, and in those younger than age one, that rate was double.

When measles is introduced into a largely unprotected population, it sweeps through like wildfire, with deadly results. In many African countries, for example, the death rate among infants and small children used to be enormous, but because of vigorous immunization programs, these deaths have been radically reduced. It is particularly tragic that in a country such as ours, children should be dying from a disease that is so easily preventable.

The problem is not limited to small children, however, as recent outbreaks on major university campuses have demonstrated. Clearly, we parents must continue to take these diseases seriously and rigidly adhere to the recommended program of immunizations for our children. It was only 14 years ago that smallpox, once a major killer, disappeared from the face of the earth following a vigourous worldwide immunization campaign. Perhaps we can do the same with measles some day, but it will only happen if the need for immunization is taken seriously by all of us.
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Title Annotation:importance of measles vaccination to prevent deadly epidemics
Publication:Medical Update
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:334
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