Much Ado About Measles
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Much Ado About Measles

Four cases of the measles have been confirmed in Toronto. Here's what that means, and why people can't stop talking about it.

Toronto Public Health has confirmed four cases of measles this week, which is around the average number of cases the city typically sees in an entire year. The main difference this time is that most cases tend to be directly linked to travel—as in, they’re contracted abroad. These four, on the other hand, appear to have been picked up right here in Toronto. And Toronto Public Health representatives have expressed concern that these four cases could lead to an even bigger outbreak.

Read more to find what you need to know about the easily preventable disease.

What exactly is the measles?

When people talk about “measles,” they’re usually referring to the red and splotchy rash associated with the rubeola virus. Other symptoms include fever, cough, red watery eyes, and a runny nose. While the virus itself isn’t necessarily devastating, it can lead to ear infections, lung infection, encephalitis, and even death. Infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are at a particular risk for these potential complications.

It’s also super contagious: one case can infect anywhere from 12 to 18 people. Because the virus is so infectious, a population immunization rate of 70 per cent is necessary for herd immunity against a given illness.

How do I prevent myself from getting measles?

You probably already know the answer to this one, but just in case: the measles vaccine is 95 per cent effective against the disease, and is the number-one course of preventative action recommended by public health officials.

Why is everyone freaking out?

Well, as Vaccine Nation author Elena Conis has elegantly pointed out, the correlation between this latest measles resurgence and vaccine opt-outers, both real and perceived, speaks to “a collective cultural discomfort with the wealthy’s increasing ability to opt out of shared responsibility for community welfare.” Some also take issue with the ableist slant of a dominant anti-vax argument that draws a link between vaccination and autism. Of course, reasons for vaccine refusal aren’t limited to the examples given above; religious grounds and allergies are among other reasons some people decide not to vaccinate themselves or their children. According to the Toronto Star, around 6,000 Toronto students have exemptions from immunization, or about 1.6 per cent of the student body. The breakdown for the reasons for the exemptions is not available.