You may have forgotten about the measles because, until the year 2000, the disease had been eradicated in the United States. Back in the 1960s, scientists developed the MMR vaccine, which prevents measles, mumps, and rubella (also known as the German measles). Just about everybody got vaccinated, and those diseases became very uncommon.
But then, in the early 2000s, people started believing that vaccinations cause autism, and parents started refusing to vaccinate their children.
Fast forward to 2016, and Arizona has had 22 confirmed cases of measles since the end of May. The outbreak likely started with a immigrant being held at the Eloy Detention Center, but it spread because employees of ICE or Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that runs the center, refused to get vaccinated for it.
Measles isn’t generally that big a deal for adults, although one of the people infected did spend four days in the hospital. But measles can be deadly for babies, who can’t be vaccinated till they’re one year old. Its sister strain, rubella, can cause a variety of birth defects in the unborn children of mothers who contract the disease.
Local officials are working to prevent a further spread of the outbreak, and so far employees of ICE and Corrections Corporation of America have been responsive to vaccines, so it’s possible that some of them just didn’t know that the disease was that serious. But this could easily have been prevented, and it’s unlikely that it would have happened twenty years ago. This also isn’t the first example of an otherwise preventable disease having an outbreak in the United States or the United Kingdom because people refuse to have their children vaccinated.