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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is worried about how far a measles outbreak linked to Disneyland might spread. Although it’s not the worst outbreak yet in recent years, public health officials are having to work hard in 14 states to make sure the virus doesn’t spread any further.
“We're concerned that measles could gain a foothold in this country if we don't stop it, if we don't increase vaccination rates,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told NBC News.
More than 100 people have been infected with measles in the U.S. so far this year, according to various state health officials. Most cases have been directly linked to Disneyland.
Frieden has some advice for people worried about the dangers of vaccines: Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.
"The internet is a big open place and people may think that all of the information on the internet is relatively of the same validity."
“Mark Twain said rumor can get halfway around the world before truth puts its boots on,” Frieden said. “And one of the things that we try to do is get out there immediately anytime there are rumors with information on social media, on the web, on Twitter — to identify where the rumors are coming from and answer them,” he added.
“But the Internet is a big, open place and people may think that all of the information on the Internet is relatively of the same validity.”
Measles was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but it can get re-imported from other countries. More than 20 million people are infected with measles each year globally, mostly because it’s so difficult to get everyone vaccinated in poor and hard-to-reach areas. More than 140,000 people, mostly children, die of measles in a year.
During 2014, the CDC reported 644 cases of measles in the United States.
“I’ve talked to many people who are reluctant about vaccines and one thing that I find repeatedly is that people may not realize that these diseases are still around and that keeping them at bay requires us to continue to get vaccinated,” Frieden said.
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He says people who completely oppose vaccination are unusual. “And in fact, most of the parents who are not getting their kids vaccinated, it's not because they're adamantly opposed to vaccination. It's because they may not recognize that measles are still with us," Frieden said.
"They may not recognize that it's not just about their kids. It's about their neighbor's baby as well."
There are no federal mandates for vaccination. States have chosen to enforce vaccination by limiting school admission. In most states, people have limited options for enrolling kids who haven’t been vaccinated.
“There's an old saying that your right to swing your fist ends at my nose."
Frieden said a parent’s right not to vaccinate a child only goes so far.
“There's an old saying that your right to swing your fist ends at my nose,” he said.
“And if the choices you make for your family end up putting my children at risk or other children in our community at risk, then that's really something that community, that school board, that state need to look at really closely.”
Earlier Wednesday the Trust for America’s Health issued a report looking at the most recent CDC statistics and it found that in 17 states, under 90 percent of preschoolers have been vaccinated against measles.
“Measles is one of — if not the most — infectious of infectious diseases,” Frieden noted.
“We've seen circumstances where one infectious kid has gone into an auditorium and only a handful of other kids among hundreds of others were not measles immune. And virtually every one of them got measles.”