Vaccine preventable diseases around the world

If you’ve paid any attention to the news recently you must have heard about the measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland, most probably from an individual who was visiting from abroad. At the time of writing this, there have been 84 confirmed cases originating from this Disneyland index case.

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of “vaccines work” and “vaccinating everyone who is medically able to be vaccinated saves the lives of those who are medically unable to be vaccinated” (both of which are true statements), I want to instead focus on how prevalent these vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs) are outside of the US and why we’re still at risk of diseases that have been essentially eliminated in the US through vaccination.

Here’s the interactive Council on Foreign Relations Vaccine-Preventable Outbreaks Map that I know I’ve featured in a previous post, but it shows the current state of a few vaccine preventable diseases. Following the yearly progression shows that many of these vaccine preventable diseases like measles are found in large numbers elsewhere in the world. While measles may be mostly (or at least was mostly) eradicated in the US, this map shows that eradication is not the case in many areas of the world. We’ve seen how the not very contagious Ebola sparked panic when infected folks took up air travel, and globalization means highly contagious diseases like measles are just a plane ride away. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) map, in 2014 there were about 122,000 cases of measles and 32,000 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) in the world. That’s 122,000 people who could potentially bring measles into the US. One thing I would like to note is that of the 32,000 pertussis cases in the world in 2014, 13,000 (so almost 50%) of the cases occurred right here in the good ole U S of A. The following is a graph that shows VPD outbreaks around the world, just in January 2014.

Source: IBTimes, Council on Foreign Relations

Source: IBTimes, Council on Foreign Relations

Measles and pertussis aren’t the only VPDs that exist in the world. Although you may only be familiar with a few of these, the WHO lists several other worldwide VPDs that people may have heard of before (case numbers from 2013):

  • Diphtheria 4,680 cases worldwide
  • Mumps  515,592 cases worldwide
  • Rubella  101,311 cases worldwide
  • Polio  480 cases worldwide

While I don’t expect this information to sway any anti-vaxxers away from their beliefs (whatever they may be) I do think it is important for all of us to understand that these VPDs are on our doorstep, and will be for some time. The best protection we have are vaccinations; the prevalence and severity of these diseases are why we have vaccines in the first place (we don’t have a vaccine for the common cold now do we, and for those that think big pharma is just out to make money on vaccines why haven’t they developed a vaccine for the common cold since it impacts almost everyone at least once a year….helllllloooooooo cash cow).

What are your thoughts on the worldwide prevalence of these VPDs? Should we be doing more at home to prevent these diseases, or more abroad to reduce the chance of someone importing them into the US, or both?

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