10 things you should know about measles - CBS46 News

By Geetha Parachuru

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 141 cases of measles in the United States this year.

It’s only February.

These cases are linked to a large multi-state outbreak of measles in California at Disneyland in December 2014. According to the CDC, this number is on the rise. During a recent measles telebriefing in January, Anne Schuchat, MD, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said in 2014, the U.S. experienced the highest number of measles cases in 20 years, topping the charts at over 600 cases. Measles was thought to have been eliminated in the U.S. 15 years ago. Between 2001 and 2010, the median number of reported measles cases was 60 per year. Based on today’s numbers, the U.S. exceeded the median number cases from the last decade, in January alone.

So why is measles such a big deal?

1) It is really contagious.

“Measles is one of the most highly infectious diseases known,” according to Reshma Chugani, MD, pediatrician at Atlanta Children’s Clinical Center in Buckhead, Georgia. The disease can transmit easily through the air and can be spread through coughing, sneezing and inhaling of an infected person’s droplets. “The droplets are so small that they can hang around in the air for hours before a susceptible person inhales them,” said Dr. Chugani. The virus can also live on surfaces touched by an infected person for up to two hours. Think about that for a second: Shared spaces such as door handles, shopping carts, countertops, airplane seats and school desks. In the simplest terms, you can get measles without even coming into direct contact with an infected person.

2) I’m more likely to get Measles than Ebola.
2014 is the year for Ebola headlines. Despite the scary fatality rate among the infected, measles is much more contagious. To put it in perspective, a person with measles is on average likely to infect 18 other unvaccinated people. While a person with Ebola is on average, likely to infect 1.5 to 2 people.

3) 121 cases is a big deal.
Well, it’s 121 more cases than we said it should be 15 years ago. While some may feel we are going back in time, it’s easy to forget how serious measles can be especially since the U.S. declared it to have been eliminated in 2000. The truth is measles still exists globally with 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths per hour. As the number of people opting against vaccinations in the U.S. continue to rise, the number of measles cases will also continue to increase.
4) There is no cure.
Measles is a respiratory disease caused by a virus, there is no cure. However, there is supportive care treatment that can help with the symptoms. According to Andi Shane, MD, MPH, MSc, medical director of hospital epidemiology at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, children all across the globe are given vitamin A supplements to prevent blindness due to measles.
5) However, the vaccine is very effective.
One dose of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is approximately 93-95% effective at preventing measles; two doses are approximately 97%-99% effective says Dr. Shane. Refer to the CDC guidelines and your state’s health department for MMR vaccine schedules.
6) Even though there is an effective vaccine, outbreaks still occur.
The majority of people with measles in the U.S. are not vaccinated. However, these cases are a result of travel by people who become infected overseas, prior to returning back to the U.S. According to the World Health Organization measles is still common in areas within Europe, the Pacific, Asia and Africa.

It’s important to note that not all those unvaccinated, do so by choice. Several immunocompromised individuals, such as infants under 12 months of age or chemotherapy patients cannot receive the vaccine.

Those who do choose to remain unvaccinated can do so based on where they live. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, almost all states except for Mississippi and West Virginia grant religious exemptions for those against immunizations. Twenty states allow for philosophical exemptions for those against immunizations due to personal, moral or other beliefs (including Georgia).

7) Symptoms are initially similar to the flu.
Symptoms of measles may not be immediate but once they start they tend to be similar to the flu. According to the CDC, symptoms generally appear seven to 14 days after infection. Early symptoms include fever, cough, eye discharge and red eyes (conjunctivitis). “A reddish brown rash develops four days after symptoms onset, starting at the head and spreading to the trunk and extremities,” says Dr. Shane.

There are several complications that can occur with measles including pneumonia, ear infections, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to deafness or mental retardation, or diarrhea. According to Dr. Shane, 1-2 out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. infected with measles will die from respiratory or neurological complications.

The skin of a patient after 3 days of measles infection. Photo from Wikicommons
8) I don’t live anywhere near the Disneyland outbreak in California or travel to Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa, where measles outbreaks still occur. So why should I care?
“Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in communities where groups of people are unvaccinated, as has occurred in California. As we reside in a very mobile population, travel to other states by people infected in California has resulted in spread of the outbreak,” says Dr. Shane. The numbers seem to agree. The majority of measles cases reported in 2015 are associated with the large ongoing outbreak linked to Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. Last year’s numbers were no different. Almost 60% of 2014 cases originated inside an Amish community in Ohio where the majority of residents were unvaccinated.
9) Won’t my child get autism?
In 1998, a study published in The Lancet by British medical researcher Dr. Andrew Wakefield suggested that the MMR Vaccination could cause autism. In 2010, The Lancet retracted the original 1998 study partly due to a reassessment of the original study that could not replicate the results. Following the retraction, several subsequent studies cleared the MMR vaccine of any connection to autism. The vaccine’s harmful stigma remained, causing a wide spread hysteria of people refusing to vaccinate their children to this day. “I cannot emphasize how strongly I recommend vaccination. It is the single biggest, most important thing that I do as a pediatrician every day to keep children healthy. I have seen children die of vaccine preventable illness, and I sincerely hope that parents who have not vaccinated their children now change their minds because of this outbreak,” says Dr. Chugani.

The CDC compiled the number of children enrolled in kindergarten exempt from receiving one or more vaccines. Refer to the map below.

FIGURE. Estimated percentage of children enrolled in kindergarten exempted from receiving one or more vaccines* — United States, 2011–12 school year

* Exemptions might not reflect a child's vaccination status. Children with an exemption who did not receive any vaccines are indistinguishable from those who have an exemption but are up-to-date for one or more vaccines.

10) Measles can strike anyone.
Roald Dahl spent his career living in a world of pure imagination. You may know him as the man who penned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach or Matilda. What you may not know, is that his daughter died of measles. In 1986, he wrote a heartbreaking letter to parents expressing his opinion on how vaccines could have saved his daughter’s life. Olivia died in 1962, one year before the measles vaccine was introduced. She was just seven years old. As he writes here, “In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.”

To him, there is no debate.
Get vaccinated.