With this last week’s measles scares in Oahu, Dallas, and the greater San Francisco Bay Area, you may be wondering how much damage a well-placed outbreak of measles could do. The answer should be: very little.
Although it is easy to get carried away with worrying over your own health and feeling affronted with irresponsible people who refuse to stay home from work, it is important to keep this all in perspective. The introduction of the measles vaccine in 1969 is generally regarded as one of the great success stories of modern medicine. According to the CDC, before the measles vaccine became publically available, “nearly all” Americans contracted the disease. However after vaccination became routine, the number of infections has been reduced by more than 99 percent.
Early this year, experts assured the public that there is no reason to doubt that the current MMR vaccines are any less effective than they have ever been. Furthermore, unlike other kinds of diseases, there is no evidence to date to suggest that there may be vaccine-resistant or vaccine-deviant forms of the virus circulating.
Do not mistake though; measles is a serious disease. Once contracted, disease progression involves coughing, a runny nose, conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes), fever, and the characteristic rash. While these symptoms may sound not too different from your usual seasonal illnesses, about a third of all patients with measles will develop secondary complications. These may include pneumonia, diarrhea, and/or permanent hearing loss due to ear infections. These complications are especially dire for young children, 1 out of 1000 of which will develop swelling in the brain (a.k.a. encephalitis) that may lead to loss of vision, hearing, or mental retardation. In the developing world it is estimated that 25 percent of measles cases are lethal.
That being said, if you have been vaccinated, you should not worry. While measles is a scary disease that can be easily transmitted by someone coughing in your subway car, if you are vaccinated the chances of you contracting the disease are virtually zero. You are far more likely to pick up the common cold or any other number of disease for which no vaccine is available. So, as always, protect yourself by eating healthy, sleeping regularly, and washing your hands often. And if you are sick do yourself and everyone else a favor and please, please stay home.
It is worth noting that in rare cases measles cases have been reported in patients who already have gotten the vaccine. However these cases are extremely rare.
The only people who should be seriously worried by the recent flurry of measles outbreaks are those who have not been vaccinated. In particular young children and pregnant women are at risk for serious complications for the disease. If you happen to be one of these people, public health officials strongly encourage you to protect yourself from any immediate infection and to get vaccinated in the near future. If you suspect you are sick, contact your doctor immediately.
Even as an adult, if you have not been vaccinated already, it is not too late to start. If you have had one MMR vaccine already but are not sure if you received the second, it is advised to get two separate vaccines about a month apart. As with all medical matters, consult your doctor on what options are available to you.
By Sarah Takushi
Calgary Herald News