A student at the University of California Berkeley who never received a vaccination against measles has contracted the disease. Health officials from the City of Berkeley are warning Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuters that they may have come into contact with the student and possibly been exposed to the disease. The student rode BART back and forth between the Berkeley campus and Contra Costa County from February 4 through February 7.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that measles virus is highly contagious. The disease spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes; 90 percent of people who are not immune and come into close contact with someone who has the disease will become infected with the virus. Symptoms to watch for include a flu-like fever, runny nose and sore throat to start, followed by the appearance of very small white spots with pale blue centers inside the mouth.
Dr. Janet Berreman, a health officer with the City of Berkeley, said that the measles vaccine is highly effective in preventing infection. However, the infected Berkeley student, who appears to have contracted measles while traveling abroad, never received the vaccination.
Publication in The Lancet in February 1998 of a paper linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with a growing incidence of autism in young children sparked an anti-vaccine revolt. Both the paper and its author, British physician Andrew Wakefield, were later discredited. Scientists spent years testing his theory. Wakefield was ultimately exposed for fabricating his research. His medical license was revoked and The Lancet retracted his paper from their publication. Nevertheless, the belief among parents across Europe and North America, that vaccinating their children was dangerous, stubbornly continued to gain acceptance, and vaccination rates decreased.
Wakefield’s scientific misconduct has resulted in the widespread reluctance of parents to immunize their children. The trend corresponds to the resurgence of a number of diseases, which had become uncommon in developed countries, particularly measles and whooping cough. In 2011, there was a measles outbreak in France of nearly 15,000 cases. Only the nations of Somalia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Indonesia experienced greater numbers of measles cases that year.
In 2012, British authorities reported 2,000 cases of measles. That same year, in the United States, whooping cough cases spiked to nearly 50,000. In the 1980s, fewer than 2,000 Americans a year developed whooping cough.
Last August, there was a measles outbreak centered in a megachurch in Tarrant County, Texas. Of the 15 people in the area who contracted the illness, 11 had not received all recommended vaccinations, and it was believed the other four individuals were only partially vaccinated.
Spokesman for the Eagle Mountain Church, Robert Hayes, stated that the church had never taken a stance against vaccination. But a review of the church’s website revealed statements by church leader Kenneth Copeland discouraging members from vaccinating their children and promoting the power of faith healing. Copeland’s daughter and church pastor, Terri Copeland Pearson, took a different position after the outbreak. From her pulpit, Pearson stated she believes that opposition to vaccination is harmful for children. “Vaccinations help cut the mortality rate,” she affirmed. She further informed congregants that MMR vaccines currently in use do not contain mercury. The 1998 Wakefield paper had proposed that mercury content in vaccines was the culprit in later incidence of autism.
In her sermon, Pearsons expressed a concern about vaccinating very young children with family histories of autism, as well as the fear that bundling too many immunizations could be harmful. However, Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University’s chairman of preventive medicine, stated that Pearson’s assertion was inconsistent with current scientific thought. What is known is that the Berkeley student who was reported this week as having developed measles never received a vaccination against the disease.
By Melissa Roddy