Measles growing problem across U.S.
Cases of the measles continue to be an ongoing problem throughout the country even though there is a vaccine available to prevent the virus.
So far in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 465 cases of measles in 19 states. It’s the second-highest number of cases since the measles were eliminated in 2000 with 2014 experiencing the highest number at 667.
Dr. Joe Thompson, CEO and president of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, expects this year to have more cases than 2014.
“We’re less than halfway through the year and we’ve got more than half as many cases as were present in 2014,” he said. “I think the concern for health entities is that we could lose control. … The CDC currently has seven ongoing outbreaks of measles. That’s almost unheard of to have that many outbreaks going on at the same time. I don’t want to be an alarmist.
It’s not spreading nationwide but you have seven little forest fires burning. You don’t want those to come together. … That’s why you see people taking pretty strong actions.”
Outbreaks are in New York,
Washington, California, New Jersey and Michigan, a long way from here in miles but a short plane ride away.
In states where outbreaks are present, restrictions have been placed on children who aren’t immunized, barring them from public places including schools.
“In Brooklyn, the health commissioner is requiring everybody to be vaccinated and telling them if they are immunized they can’t go to public places like malls or parks,” Thompson said.
The illness is contagious, easily passed from person-to-person through droplets released when coughing or sneezing. The virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where someone infected coughed or sneezed.
“If you’re not immunized and you’re exposed to measles, over 90 percent of the time you will come down with the illness,” Thompson said.
Symptoms of the measles include high fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes with a rash of tiny red spots starting at the head and spreading over the rest of the body.
“The worst outcomes happen when the brain gets infected which can cause long-term neurological problems or death,” Thompson said.
The MMR vaccine, he said, is very effective at preventing children from getting the measles. It’s recommended in a two-dose schedule, the first to be taken between ages 12 to 15 months and the second between 4 to 6 years of age.
“If you get those two doses you have a 97 percent protection rate if exposed,” Thompson said.
In Arkansas, approximately 91 percent of the children entering kindergarten, have all the recommended vaccines.
“That means nine out of 10 parents are making a decision to safeguard their children and to protect other children,” he said.
Thompson said he would like to see the state’s vaccination rate higher.
“If you get up to 95 percent you can achieve herd immunity,” he said. “That’s when so many people are immunized it makes it hard for a disease to spread quickly. The problem with 91 percent is it’s not evenly spread across the state. There may be a church or school where you’re down to 60 percent or 70 percent, and that’s where you can get those pockets of illness.
“As a pediatrician this is a conversation I’ve had multiple times. I think what parents don’t recognize is whether it’s polio, measles, whooping cough or another condition that four or five decades ago killed children every year, because of vaccines we’ve eliminated these diseases so most parents don’t have to have that experience. I strongly encourage parents get the vaccines and make sure your kids are protected for life.”
■ Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines sit in a cooler March 27 at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y.