The recent outbreak of measles in the United States is cause for concern for every Amercian.
First and foremost, measles is a highly contagious disease that places at risk anyone who is in the vicinity of someone who is infected with measles, whether it be on a plane, a ship, or the person standing next to you in line at the store.
Second, measles is a disease that can have severe complications for those who contract it, especially the very young, the elderly, and pregnant women. Though measles can lead to death in rare cases, there are many more complications, ranging from flu-like symptoms to encephalitis (the swelling of the brain) that can cause life-long cognitive and physical defects.
Third, the recent outbreak shows how dangerous our society can become for all of us when a small minority decides, for reasons ranging from religious beliefs to quack science, that they are not going to accept vaccinations for their children.
Vaccinations for smallpox, polio, measles, and other contagious diseases are the single-most significant reason why life expectancy in the developed world has increased exponentially in the past 100 years, even though rates of death from heart disease and cancer have remained roughly the same.
The spread of misinformation over the internet about the safety, reliability, and efficacy of vaccines is yet another example of how viral misinformation via social media is damaging our society. Measles was declared eradicated in this country in 2000. Hopefully, our public health officials will address the situation swiftly, not only to eliminate the threat of measles itself, but also to ensure that the anti-vaccine contagion does not spread to other diseases that can have serious consequences for all of us.