EDITORIAL: Disease outbreaks highlight importance of vaccinations

The recent surge in reported mumps cases in Hidalgo County coincides with two nationwide trends. The first is the alarming increase of communicable diseases that just a few years ago were considered under control or effectively eradicated. The other, however, is a growing number of U.S. residents who aren’t getting vaccinated.

The Hidalgo County Health Department has reported some 20 confirmed or suspected cases of mumps, a viral disease that causes swelling and tenderness in several glands in the body. It often attacks the salivary glands and traditionally is characterized by swelling in the jaw and neck area. In rare cases it can affect the brain or pancreas, causing pancreatitis, meningitis or even encephalitis.

Historically the disease was more prevalent among young children, but the current local outbreak is can affect more adults. That’s alarming, as the disease can be more severe as the patients age. Mumps affects the reproductive organs in one in four men and one in 20 women who catch after puberty, and although it can lead to lower sperm counts, reports of sterility are exaggerated, according to the UK National Health Service.

In addition to mumps, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting a rapid growth in the number of reported cases of measles, even though the agency had announced in 2000 that it had been completely eliminated in the United States. But as of April 19 of this year, the CDC had confirmed 626 cases of the disease, and the states that are hardest hit include Texas, New York, California, Illinois and Washington. Just 86 cases were reported in all of 2016, 120 in 2017 and 372 last year. The agency links the increase to the growing number of people who aren’t being vaccinated against such diseases.

Measles is a highly contagious disease. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services reports that most people who have contracted the disease were not vaccinated, and that 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed to the virus will get the disease.

After some 160 measles cases were reported in the past two weeks alone, federal health officials publicly announced reminders that vaccines aren’t as risky as has been stated in some internet reports. One concern officials have is that many parents who aren’t vaccinating their children were themselves vaccinated, and they don’t know the severity of the diseases those vaccines fight.

Most public schools require students to be vaccinated, with good reason: without them an outbreak can devastate the student body. Increasingly, however, Texas and other states are allowing parents to request waivers from the requirement. At least one of the local mumps cases involved a student at the Edinburg campus of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, placing much of the student body at risk.

Unless there’s a good reason, it’s not a good idea to avoid vaccination. Most people have no reactions to a vaccine, and any reaction usually pales in comparison to the disease itself.

Anyone who is behind in scheduled vaccinations should catch up. Anyone who has chosen to waive inoculation should rethink that choice. It’s a decision that doesn’t affect just one person, but anyone with whom that person might come in contact.