Measles continues to spread in the United States, with at least 704 cases reported so far this year in 22 states, including Florida. The disease was declared eradicated from the United States in 2000.
Highly contagious, measles spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can stay alive in the air for up to two hours. An unvaccinated or immune person who shares close space with an infected person who sneezes or coughs has a 90 percent chance of contracting the illness.
“That’s more cases of measles in a single year that we’ve seen in the past 25 years; it is early in the year, so I do expect to see additional measles cases,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Acting Director of the Center for Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She says there’s also a rise in measles cases globally.
“The World Health Organization recently reported a 300 percent increase in measles around the world,” Messonnier said. “Unvaccinated Americans traveling internationally, get exposed to measles and bring it home with them infecting their families and their communities.”
According to the CDC, this year’s count includes 44 people catching measles while traveling in another country; three-quarters of those who caught the disease are children or teenagers. No deaths have been reported but 66 patients have been hospitalized. Messonnier says the focus is on getting the right information to parents about vaccinations.
“Parents should bring their questions to their health care providers; the doctors are really the best-equipped to help them make health care decision,” said Messonnier. “This is a safe and effective vaccine.”
However, some parents refuse to vaccinate their kids amid incorrect claims around the world linking the vaccines to autism.
“It has no relation to autism whatsoever; and that message needs to be put out there,” said Dr. John Lanza, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County.
“Typically, we give the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine between 12-15 months of age, and a booster at between 4-6 years of age,” Lanza says. “And with that, it’s very effective; there’s actually no reason not to get your vaccinations.”
Lanza agrees with the CDC that there’s too much bad information out there, which has convinced many to join the so-called “anti-vaxxers” movement. In its annual report on the gravest threats to global health, the World Health Organization says one of them is the growing resistance to vaccination, a taking its place with Ebola and air pollution.
“But because of the fact that we have those who do not want to give their vaccinations – specifically MMR – it has come back to cause a lot of illness, serious illness in our children and in certain adults.”
Two cases of measles have been reported in Florida, involving people who contracted the disease while traveling outside the state. While that doesn’t sound like much, Lanza says this is not the time to let down your guard.
“Measles is not an innocuous disease; you can die from measles, just as you can die from potential chicken pox,” Lanza says. “That’s why we have vaccines for both of them. So, if you haven’t had the measles, I definitely suggest that you get the vaccine.”
The CDC and global health agencies like the World Health Organization recommend that children receive two doses of measles-rubella or measles-mumps-rubella. “
There are two ways to get immunity from measles, says Lanza – vaccination, or having had the disease.
“Once you’ve had that actual disease, you will not ever get it; that’s why it’s so important that all children get vaccinated for these common childhood diseases because they’re not usually out there,” said Lanza. “And even if you’re out there you wouldn’t want your child to get it if there’s an effective vaccine prevention for it.”
The CDC and other health agencies recommend that children receive two doses of measles-rubella, or measles-mumps rubella vaccine. There are two ways to get immunity from measles, says Lanza – vaccination, or having had the disease.
“Once you’ve had that actual disease, you will not ever get it [again],” says Lanza. “That’s why it’s so important that all children get vaccinated for these common childhood diseases because they’re not usually out there. And even if they’re out there you wouldn’t want your child to get it, if there’s an effective vaccine prevention for it.”
People born in 1957 and before – who went through measles outbreaks before the first vaccine came along – are very likely to have had the illness. Studies claim that 95 to 98 percent of those people are immune.