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Measles Outbreak: Why 'Measles Parties' Are A Bad Idea For Parents


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Health officials made a specific point to condemn the resurgence of "measles parties," get-togethers where parents gather unvaccinated children with kids already suffering with measles in order to intentionally infect the group at a young age.

The practice has its own faulty logic based on how humans fight off the disease. Once people have become infected by measles, their bodies build up their immune systems to prevent new inflections. They are immune for the rest of their lives.

"As a parent, I have no doubt that each and every parent is making decisions based out of what they believe is best for their children," said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio. "But as a doctor, a public health practitioner, and a mom, I must warn you that exposing your unvaccinated child to measles is very dangerous, and it could even be deadly." 

That's the point of vaccines - safe ways of making people immune to infections with limited side effects. But "measles parties" carry a number of serious drawbacks.

"I know that parents may be afraid of getting their child vaccinated, but as a pediatrician, I know that getting vaccinated is far safer than getting measles," said NYC Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. "The vaccine has been proven safe and effective in preventing the spread of measles for decades and we have evidence."

So why are "measles parties" a bad idea?

"Because vaccines have been so effective at preventing previously widespread diseases, we tend to forget that measles and other childhood diseases can be very serious," said CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez. "Why would you purposely expose your child to measles, causing them to feel awful, run a high fever (which can lead to seizures), risk expensive hospitalization and other potentially serious complications when a simple vaccine can prevent all that?"

"Plus, there's the chance that an infected person could transmit measles to an immuno-compromised person (cancer, HIV, other chronic diseases) who could get very sick and even die," he said. "That's not being a responsible member of the community."

So, to recap...

1.) Your child will get sick, possibly dangerously sick. In addition to measles' miserable symptoms of dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, white spots inside the lining of the cheeks and skin rashes, there's also fever – up to 105 degrees.

In the modern era, measles is rarely fatal, but Center for Disease Control numbers showed 1 in 10,000 cases resulted in death before 1963. Even now, 1 in 4 people who get measles end up hospitalized.

Complications from measles include bronchitis, pneumonia, encephalitis and serious pregnancy problems. Extreme cases show 1 in 1,000 people suffering brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage.

2.) Your child will get other people sick. Measles is highly contagious from four days before to four days after symptoms appear. The CDC says 9 out of 10 people who are exposed to someone with measles will become infected, though they might not know for up to six days.

3.) Your child will make the "herd immunity" to measles weaker for everyone. Part of the math behind widespread vaccination is to lower the occurrence of the disease everywhere, limiting the chance of exposure to anyone.

In a "measles party," every child becomes a carrier out in the world, allowing the disease to find new carriers and continue to spread to vulnerable people – babies too young to get vaccinations and people with compromised immune systems.

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