In a few rich countries around the world, the measles are making a comeback.
The United States, which had nearly eradicated the contagious virus by the early 2000s, has logged 159 cases so far in 2019. In Japan, 167 people have already been diagnosed with the measles in the first six weeks of this year — the highest measles infection rate for the Japanese in over a decade.
Public health officials have been warning for months that this is the consequence if people choose not to vaccinate their children. The World Health Organization (WHO) says “vaccine hesitancy” is one of the biggest threats to the health of the world right now. Some pediatricians in the US have also voiced concerns that relaxed regulation in many states is creating a breeding ground for all kinds of preventable infections, including the measles.
Asked for his thoughts on the situation, Bill Gates added his own voice to the growing alarm about anti-vaxxer parents during a Reddit AMA on Monday.
“It is surprising to see how in the richer countries the consensus that kids should be protected has been lost,” Gates on Monday. “Unfortunately this will mean some measles or pertussis deaths.”
Before the invention of the measles vaccine in 1963, the contagious virus was a ubiquitous childhood illness. Deadly measles complications affected about one in every 1,000 patients who got the measles, and more than 400 people died from measles every year in the US. The country hasn’t seen a deadly measles case since 2015, however, when one woman with a compromised immune system died from pneumonia resulting from measles complications.
Still, a growing number of people rely on debunked junk science and other false information to back up their belief that vaccines are dangerous.
“Vaccines have saved more lives than any other tool,” Gates said.
Public-health experts around the world say the same.
“We risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating but entirely preventable disease,” Soumya Swaminathan, a deputy director general at the WHO, said in a recent statement.
Many of the measles cases in the US so far this year have popped up in the Pacific Northwest, where at least 57 unvaccinated people have contracted the illness.
“People become complacent because they don’t realize how bad it can be,” Clark County public health director Alan Melnick recently told Business Insider. “And that’s what scares me the most.”
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