Measles are making a comeback. No, I'm not talking about some hip band from your youth.
This year alone over 150 cases of measles have been reported in the United States, and there have been similar outbreaks in Europe -- a sign the disease is making an alarming return.
The reason: some parents are refusing standard immunizations for their children, fearing a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
Even though Dr. Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study making the MMR-autism connection was later found fraudulent by the British General Medical Council, suspicions about the vaccine have persisted.
"A rising portion of the population is deciding not to immunize their children because of this controversy, and these children are now susceptible to the measles virus," says Dr. Poland, Mary Lowell Leary Professor of Medicine and director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group.
"The results have been devastating," Dr. Poland says. "The campaign against the vaccine has caused great harm to public health across multiple nations, even though it has no scientific basis. There have been over 20 studies, spanning two decades, conducted in several countries. Not one has found scientific evidence of a connection between autism spectrum disorders and MMR vaccine."
Measles remain the most contagious human infectious disease, killing roughly three out of every thousand people infected. Through successful immunization programs worldwide, indigenous cases of the disease had been ruled out in the U.S., as was smallpox. Not so now.
Dr. Poland insists parents have to get to the heart of the research and listen to the facts, rather than jeopardize their children's health.
"Just as significantly," he adds, "we need to direct appropriate and significant funds to determine what's really causing autism in our children."