Measles Outbreak: Should You Be Concerned?
J ust before I was to receive my vaccinations for yellow fever and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis yesterday in preparation for my upcoming trip to Kenya next month, I was advised of other vaccinations I might want to consider — including measles.
“Measles are making a comeback in the United States,” said the nurse who administered my vaccinations. “There was a measles outbreak reported at Disneyland recently.”
Sure enough, she was correct. According to this article posted at the official Internet web site of the California Department of Health:
Of the confirmed cases, 42 have been linked to an initial exposure in December at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. The confirmed cases include five Disney employees. In addition, other cases have visited Disney parks while infectious in January. CDPH recommends that any patient with a measles compatible illness who has recently visited venues where international travelers congregate, such as theme parks, airports, etc., be considered to have a plausible exposure to measles.
Measles is a highly infectious, airborne disease that typically begins with fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, and within a few days a red rash appears, usually first on the face and then spreading downward to the rest of the body.
Vaccination is the most important strategy to prevent measles. Two doses of measles-containing vaccine (MMR vaccine) are more than 99 percent effective in preventing measles. Measles vaccines have been available in the United States since 1963, and two doses have been recommended since 1989. If you are unsure of your vaccination status, check with your doctor to have a test to check for measles immunity or to receive vaccination.
Is an outbreak of measles actually returning to the United States? After all — according to the aforementioned article — “measles has been eliminated in the United States since 2000.”
Apparently, there have been other outbreaks of measles in the United States in recent years, according to the official Internet web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — as well as outbreaks in France and the Philippines.
“The United States experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 644 cases from 27 states reported to CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). This is the greatest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000.”
The outbreaks of measles in the United States are chiefly caused continuously by travelers who bring the disease into the United States — such as one person who brought it back to North Carolina in 2013 after visiting India for three months, as an example.
The majority of the people who were diagnosed with measles had not been vaccinated; and because the disease is highly contagious, measles can spread quickly as a result. In fact, this article claims that people who skip vaccinations for measles are “incredibly selfish.”
Here is some information about what causes measles — also known as rubeola — as provided in this topic overview at WebMD:
Measles is caused by a virus. It is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks. The measles virus can travel through the air. This means that you can get measles if you are near someone who has the virus even if that person doesn’t cough or sneeze directly on you.
You can spread the virus to others from 4 days before the rash starts until 4 days after the rash appeared. The virus is most often spread when people first get sick, before they know they have it.
If you have had measles, you can’t get it again. Most people born before 1957 have had measles.
Even if you are unfortunate enough to contract measles, you will most likely recover within two weeks; but according to the aforementioned information from WebMD, “…measles can sometimes cause dangerous problems, such as lung infection (pneumonia) or brainswelling (encephalitis). In rare cases, it can even cause seizures or meningitis.”
This is one of those rare times where washing your hands properly may not be completely effective. I normally do not advocate medication; but this could be one of those exceptions where if you did not already have measles and you have not been vaccinated against the disease, you might want to consider getting a measles shot — especially if you travel internationally.
Even if you are protected from measles, you could spread it to those people who are not protected from contracting it. One simple way to prevent the spread of the disease is to cover your mouth as best as possible when you cough, sneeze or yawn — especially in closed quarters such as aboard an airplane — preferably with your arm or sleeve. Also, do not share the same food or beverages.
In the meantime — despite the most recent outbreak — there is no reason to panic at this time…
…especially if you take the proper precautions to protect yourself and other people against contracting measles.