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Map Charts Comeback of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

February 10, 2014

Public health professionals worldwide are confronting an alarming fact: many diseases that are preventable through the power of vaccination are making a steady comeback around the globe. A new online tool illustrates just how and where these diseases have made an impact.

The Council on Foreign Relations launched an interactive world map showing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases since 2008. With colored dots sized depending on the number of cases in an outbreak, the map shows how measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, polio and other diseases have gained a foothold once again, even in communities where they were once far diminished by vaccination.

As the years pass, many of the dots keep getting larger.

CFR said the tool was created to draw attention to a very preventable global health crisis. And with the group’s visualization, it’s easy to spot a few major trends in vaccine-preventable diseases: measles has made major inroads across Europe, and outbreaks of whooping cough, or pertussis, have become increasingly common in the U.S.

In 2010, Georgia experienced an outbreak of whooping cough, which infected 247 people. But the outbreak was small compared with pertussis epidemics in states like California, Washington and Arizona, where numbers of cases climbed as high as 12,000.

Why have these diseases come surging back in communities that were once rid of them? Many health officials say the trend can be traced back to a 1998 study, which falsely claimed that the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was linked to autism. The study has been soundly discredited by scientists, but it’s easy to see its impact in the numbers of outbreaks caused by viruses that were able to take advantage of decreases in vaccination rates.

For more information on the tool, visit CFR’s website.