How dangerous is measles?

The Phenomena website is running an article with good information about measles.  It clears up something that was confusing me, which is exactly how dangerous this disease really is.  An ordinary case of measles comes in through the lungs, attacks immune cells, circulates for a while, and ultimately moves back into the respiratory system, where it can be coughed back out in order to find a new host.  There are a couple of characteristic ways for measles to get out of hand.  One is that, on rare occasions, it spreads into the nervous system, with horrific results.  Another is that it severely depresses the immune system for several weeks, leaving its sufferers vulnerable to dangerous bouts of opportunistic pneumonia.  In a wealthy society with good medical care, this translates into one to three deaths per thousand.  In a grisly refugee camp, the death rate can be 25%.

Measles, an airborne virus, is fantastically contagious.  Something like 90% of non-immune people in a room with an infectious measles patient can expect to contract the disease.

This Hoover article runs through some of the legal history of the police power in the field of epidemiology and public health.  It's an old controversy.


Grim said...

I read a similar article on terrorism which suggests that its effectiveness is a function of our success at establishing security. We're in no danger of a 25% loss rate, but the outbreak is creating national concern (though California has around a hundred cases of it, not millions). Terrorists killing a dozen innocents creates international headlines if it happens in a safe and secure society like France; if it happens in Nigeria, 2,000 dead doesn't bother anybody.

Cass said...

Love the first article - lots of good information there. Thanks for posting it.

Cass said...

One of the stranger facts I learned in my reading this morning is that in 2011, France had almost 15,000 cases of measles.

Texan99 said...

It's slowly occurring to me that I really can't remember getting measles, mumps, or anything else of the sort--except chickenpox--as a child. If they didn't even come out with this vaccine until 1968, there's no way I've had it. So I've made a doctor's appointment. I'm overdue for a checkup anyway.

Anonymous said...

Yes, ​Measles are ​indeed nasty​. ​

Far ​nastier are the ​pharmaceutical
companies that manufacture the vaccines
​while lin​ing​ the pockets of our politicians​ with contributions​
and promot​ing legislation that kills the free market system.

Look at the statistics at this website​, then revisit your argument.

​My ​Liberty is far more precious than security​ of the pro-vaccine ​crowd.

Texan99 said...

That's the hard question, isn't it? Are the two risks really comparable? And who should get to make that decision?

Normally I'd be foursquare against any interference in a personal medical decision, but in this case I'm not dealing only with risks to myself.

I'll go look at your site, though I've never found anti-vax arguments very persuasive so far.

Texan99 said...

OK, that was interesting. I thought it would be about the danger of the vaccination itself, but it makes the point that deaths from measles in this country dropped like a rock after WWII but before the vaccine was introduced. That sounds--at a guess--as though the big drop resulted from our ability to treat the opportunistic bacterial follow-on infections.

I'm still going to go contribute to the herd immunity. Not saying I'm prepared to force anyone else to do so.

douglas said...

There were a lot of questions unanswered after reading that website and the comments as well. The whole premise of that post was that there was a decline before the introduction of the vaccination, but perhaps there were practices that led to that which we would prefer to avoid, even to the point of getting vaccinated. But he offers no evidence, only circumstantial indicators.

For what it's worth, I don't think it's insane to not get vaccinated, though I think opting out of all of them is questionable. We opted out of HepB for our kids as it's blood borne and neither I nor my wife have it, so if the kids avoid illicit iv drugs, and unprotected risky sex, the odds they'd ever get it are quite slim. I didn't even get it when I used to work in a clinical laboratory. I'm also not too keen on the HPV vaccine, for similar reasons.

Texan99 said...

Yes, I just thought it was interesting that I had the notion that it was obvious the vaccine had been the turning point in bringing down the death rate. Not that I'm totally convinced by one Vox Populi article to the contrary, but it's worth looking into.

There are tons of vaccines available that I've never considered getting--mostly, as you say, because they pertain to diseases that are fairly hard to get if you're out of certain risk categories. For that matter, I've never had a flu vaccination. I voluntarily re-upped my tetanus vaccination a few years ago, because tetanus scares me, it's ubiquitous in soil, and it had been decades since I could remember getting a booster. Also, I came down with something that may have been whooping cough, which scared me to death: I'd never had lungs so sick. The DPT shot seemed like a good bet.

I make these determinations on the basis of a personal calculus, unless and until I see a public health issue brewing, in which case I may decide I have a public duty as well as a personal interest.

Grim said...

I think I've had all the HEP vaccines. I'll have to check my shot records to be sure, but I believe I've run the full series.

My reasoning is -- what if I happen upon a car wreck? I have a duty (both legal and moral) to render aid and assistance. But I could end up getting blood all over me. I won't know the people involved or where they've been, but I still have a moral obligation to try to help them. That obligation holds ESPECIALLY if they're bleeding a lot, because that's the kind of thing that can cause you to die before you can be gotten to a hospital. Stopping the bleeding is job #1.

Texan99 said...

I hear you. I was thinking that if I were a medical professional I'd want the Hep vaccinations, but you're right: any of us might be called on to render medical assistance on short notice.

douglas said...

That's a good point, Grim. I may reconsider on that account.