When I came to the United States for medical training after going to medical school in Pakistan, there were certain diseases I was sure I would never see surface here again. Measles was on top of that list. Even though Pakistan is one of only three countries where a vaccine-preventable disease like polio is endemic, measles is very uncommon, especially in high-income countries. Yet today, measles outbreaks are popping up in America — from Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City to Washington state, where a state of emergency has just been declared as officials scramble to keep the outbreak from spreading. Countries across Europe, too, are witnessing the reemergence of a disease that should have been eradicated with vaccination.
Measles is a highly infectious viral infection that can lead to fevers, a rash, and a flu-like illness, and can sometimes cause inflammation in the lungs or the brain. The vaccination developed in the 1960s almost eliminated measles from the face of this planet. But rumors and conspiracies about the supposed side effects of the vaccine have led some parents to prevent their children from getting inoculated, leading to its resurgence in parts of the country.