From January 1 to April 1, 2015, at least 176 persons from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have the measles (CDC.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html). As you are likely aware, the majority of these cases have been linked to a large and ongoing outbreak thought to have begun at Disneyland in California. There are currently 3 other outbreaks unrelated to the one that started in California. The majority of people who have gotten sick have not been vaccinated against measles.
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection spread by droplet (cough or sneeze) or less commonly, through the air. Measles was once a common childhood infection with potentially devastating effects. In the pre-vaccine era, for every 1000 persons who contracted measles, 1 to 2 would die from the disease. Measles symptoms commonly include fever, cough, runny and inflamed nose, eye redness and a rash on the body. Complications from an infection with the measles range from ear infections and croup to encephalitis (brain infection) or severe pneumonia. An infected person may carry the disease for 4 days without developing symptoms. During this period, as they go about daily life, there is the potential to infect hundreds of vulnerable persons, at child care, in the grocery store, at school or other gatherings. The measles virus can stay in the air for up to 2 hours after a person with measles has left.
Fortunately, once the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine was introduced, the rates of infection in the developed world went down dramatically. However, over the last several years, society has become less familiar with the effects of this highly infectious virus and more fearful of immunization due to misinformation about the safety of the MMR vaccine. As a result, there are many more unimmunized children, adolescents and adults in our communities. This situation is responsible for the continued risk of ever larger and more severe outbreaks.
The measles epidemic currently affecting the US is not the first. In fact, large epidemics have occurred in the US, nearly yearly since 2008. The current outbreak is making news as it is one of the largest and most rapidly spreading in recent history. It is important to remember that measles is still common and large outbreaks still occur in other parts of the world. As the recent epidemic of Ebola in Africa has demonstrated, many infectious diseases are just a plane ride away from our hometowns.
With this scary threat, what is the best way to ensure your family’s health and safety? The answer is simple. Vaccinate your children and vaccinate on time and completely. This is the absolute best protection that you, as a parent, can provide to your children against measles and many other scary infectious diseases. The measles vaccine (MMR) has been extensively studied and proven to be both safe and effective. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children receive the MMR vaccine at age 12 months and again at either age 4 or 5 years. High immunization rates in our community both protect the immunized and those too young to be vaccinated. If you aren’t sure if your child has been completely immunized against measles, we urge you to call our office and discuss it with us. We also encourage you to keep a copy of your child’s immunization record in your home health files. Be sure that your child is up to date on all vaccinations prior to any travel, both inside and outside of the United States.
Read more about Measles.