Slight drop in measles vaccinations could triple infections in US kids

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(Reuters Health) – Just a 5 percent decline in measles vaccination rates could triple the number of young children who get infected with the virus in the U.S., according to a study highlighting the risks of parents refusing to vaccinate their kids.

Nationwide, about 93 percent of children aged 2 to 11 years old get the measles vaccine, researchers note in JAMA Pediatrics. If this vaccination rate dropped to 88 percent, it could result in 150 additional measles cases a year and cost government health programs $2.1 million, not counting hospital bills, researchers estimate.

“Given increasing parental decisions to not vaccinate their children, we wanted to understand the effect of small reductions in vaccine coverage on overall measles cases,” said study co-author Nathan Lo of Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

“We found that small declines in vaccine coverage can really reduce the ‘herd immunity’ effect and result in more frequent and larger outbreaks of measles,” Lo said by email.

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Measles is a highly contagious virus that can be serious or even fatal. It starts with a fever that can last a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose and pink eye. A rash develops on the face and neck then spreads to the rest of the body. In severe cases, pneumonia and encephalitis can develop.

People with measles can be spreading the virus for four days before and after the rash appears, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.