Measles in Disneyland: an American tragedy

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

February 6th, 2015

Gary Finnegan

‘Dozens of people have been infected with a vaccine-preventable disease in a country that, until recently, had been measles-free for a decade. It doesn’t have to be this way.’

vaccines4Big crowds, long queues, masses of excited kids running and playing – is it surprising that Disneyland is at the epicentre of the latest US measles outbreak?

In Europe, we’ve seen this story before. Football tournaments, kickboxing competitions, and even dog shows have provided an opportunity for the measles virus to spread in large groups. Unwitting carriers bring the virus back home and, before symptoms appear, they may have shared it with many others.

The US is now reeling from an outbreak at Disneyland where at least 60 people – including some staff and ‘cast members’ – have been infected.

More than 50 cases have been traced to an outbreak which began at the holiday resort in December.

Disneyland has been around for more than half a century but immunisation rates in the US slipped back below the level required to keep the disease at bay. (See What is herd immunity?)

As this chart from the Washington Post shows, measles has been making a comeback in the US – despite having been eliminated more than a decade ago.


Illness (and in rare cases, death) caused by an infectious disease is always sad. But it is truly tragic when that disease is preventable – and had been essentially wiped out on an entire continent, only to make a deadly return.

As we know only too well in Europe, once measles is circulating, it can be difficult to get under control.

So it seems the US is destined for a period of measles outbreak after measles outbreak until vaccination rates return to the level required to prevent epidemics. n fact, this year’s Superbowl – a sporting and cultural highlight in the US – was struck by a measles scare as 1,000 people were exposed to the virus in the host state of Arizona.

No more Disneyland?

Let’s be clear, mass gatherings can be a breeding ground for infectious diseases but we don’t want to live in a society where we cannot host major sports events and music festivals, or where you can’t take your kids to a theme park.

Just make sure you and your family are vaccinated so that the virus cannot find new people to infect. Give measles nowhere to go.