Articles Title

National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
Autism and the MMR Vaccine

Aren't the diseases prevented by the MMR vaccine mild, when compared to the life-long symptoms of autism?

The diseases that the MMR vaccine prevents, measles, mumps, and rubella (also called German measles), are actually very serious. Many times, the symptoms and effects of these diseases are just as serious and life-long as the symptoms of autism. In some cases, these diseases result in death. If people stop getting vaccines, the number of cases of these diseases will increase, and with it, the number of deaths and serious health problems.

Measles is a life-threatening disease that spreads quickly and easily. Before the vaccine was available in the U.S., nearly everyone who was exposed to measles got the measles, with nearly three-to-four million cases each year. The symptoms of measles include a rash, high fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes. But, if not treated, these seemingly mild symptoms can lead to conditions such as pneumonia, seizures, and water and swelling around the brain. For one-in-500 to one-in-1,000 people, measles causes death. High levels of immunization in the U.S. have led to a 99 percent decrease in measles cases since doctors first started using the vaccine. But in poorer countries of the world, where vaccines aren’t as common, nearly 900,000 people died from causes related to measles in 1998.

Mumps, which the MMR vaccine also protects against, was a major cause of deafness in children before doctors started using vaccines to prevent it. Even though it tends to be mild in children, mumps is dangerous for adults, with side effects that can include paralysis, seizures, and fluid in the brain. Before the vaccine for mumps was available, there were about 212,000 cases of mumps each year in the U.S. In 1998, there were only 606 cases of mumps in the U.S.

The last disease prevented by the MMR vaccine, rubella, is harmful to pregnant women and their growing babies. If a pregnant woman gets rubella, her baby may develop a life-long condition that includes heart defects, mental retardation, and deafness. In some cases, the baby’s condition is so severe that the baby dies. In 1964-65, before the vaccine for rubella was available, 20,000 babies were born to mothers who had rubella. Of those 20,000 born, 11,600 were deaf, 3,580 were blind, and 1,800 were mentally retarded.

Note: Disease statistics cited in this document came from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH and the National Immunization Program at the CDC.

Last Update: 08/15/2006

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