Measles: A highly contagious respiratory virus thought to be eradicated in America.
Epidemics of the measles virus still pose a threat to children worldwide – but due to the recent anti-vaccine movement, the virus is making a comeback in the United States as well.
As a result, a husband-and-wife research team from the University of Michigan is strategizing ways to improve vaccination campaign strategies – and they believe one interesting set of data could help: seasonal birth rates.
Micaela Martinez-Bakker and Kevin Bakker, both of the University of Michigan’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, set out to analyze seasonal birth rates throughout the Northern hemisphere in an attempt to identify ‘birth pulses’ – times when more infants are born in certain populations.
“In developing countries, to get children vaccinated, many have to rely on national vaccination campaigns, and those happen once a year, and they have to vaccinate as many infants as they can,” Martinez-Bakker said. “…If you know the time of the birth pulse, vaccination campaigns can use that information to determine when there are large numbers of infants in the population, and when they should vaccinate. It’s getting the most bang for your buck in terms of vaccinating if you can only go out once year.”
Utilizing 78 years of monthly birth records in the U.S., as well as 200 data sets from countries throughout the Northern hemisphere, the researchers were able to pinpoint seasonal birth pulses in various regions across the globe.
“Further away from equator, in Europe, that birth pulse is earlier in the year, between May and August,” Bakker said. “Closer to the equator, in the Caribbean, for example, the birth pulse is much later between September and December. And there are clear patterns across the U.S.: If you live in New York, July or August, or if you live in the South, you’re more likely to have a birth in October and November.”
For their study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers also analyzed how seasonal birth patterns affected rates of disease outbreaks, focusing specifically on the measles epidemic.
“Measles is a virus primarily affecting children, and we were able to show that birth seasonality influences the size and frequency of measles outbreaks as well,” Martinez-Bakker said.
As a result, the researchers theorized that timing vaccination campaigns according to seasonal birth pulses could potentially decrease measles epidemics – as well as outbreaks of other contagious diseases like polio.
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