A new study published in the journal Pediatrics identified Patient Zero in the new measles epidemic as a 30-month-old child from Minnesota who had recently traveled to Kenya.

The unvaccinated child of Somali descent lived within an immigrant community in Minneapolis that had a low rate for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination, and contracted the disease while overseas. The child presented few symptoms of the disease upon reentering the United States, and proceeded to spread the infection to one member of the household and three children in a day-care center.

By the time the infant was diagnosed, over 3,000 people were exposed to the disease -- most of them in the Somali subpopulation, where the vaccination rate had dropped from 91 percent in 2004 to 54 percent in 2010. Of the 21 cases in which an exposed individual presented with symptoms, 16 of them were not vaccinated.

"Every family will tell you that, 'We're not going to give our children the MMR. We're afraid that they're going to get autism,'" Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed of the Axis Medical Center in Minneapolis said.

As the authors of the Pediatrics study wrote, "[m]isunderstandings about vaccine safety must be effectively addressed" if similar outbreaks are to be prevented in the future.

Since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention declared in 2001 that the measles had been eliminated, the rate of vaccination has decreased precipitously, leading to multiple outbreaks across the country.

In 2014 alone, there have been 477 reported cases of measles -- more than any other during the same period since 1994.

Writing in Politico, Sarah Despres argues that much of the opposition to MMR vaccination can be traced back to a 2000 Government Reform Committee in which the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics were seemingly outgunned by a series of anti-vaccination experts whose medical licenses have since been revoked.

"Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist who subsequently lost his medical license due to ethical violations," Despres wrote, asserted that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and "that there were still outstanding questions and that there should be just one more study -- always just one more study -- for the connection to become clear."

According to Despres, "anti-vaccine advocates told the committee stories about children who stopped speaking after receiving their MMR vaccines and spun complicated theories about how the vaccine could prevent children from absorbing nutrients, leading to neurological problems. The experts from CDC and NIH explained that the epidemiology and biology of autism and vaccines did not support what Wakefield and others were professing."

[Image via AFP]