Measles cases are on the rise again, as at least 53 people in 10 states have been confirmed to have contracted the disease in the first two months of 2014, even though the disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. The infected were mainly unvaccinated children and adults.
There is currently a measles advisory in New York City after 16 confirmed cases. Four of the cases have resulted in hospitalizations. Nine of the victims were children, seven adults. At least two of the cases were contracted in a doctor’s office. Other sources are not known.
New Yorkers are being urged to get all family members, regardless of age, vaccinated. The typical measles vaccination schedule is to receive the first shot at 12 months of age, followed by the second shot at four to six years old.
Of the children infected in New York, four were too young to have had their shots, three had been vaccinated but were only 13 to 15 months old so had not had the second shot, and two were not vaccinated by parental choice.
Increasing numbers of parents are reluctant to vaccinate their children, for reasons ranging from religious beliefs to concerns over the safety of vaccines. Many rely on the protection of having most other children vaccinated. This group protection usually requires an 80 to 90 percent vaccination rate, which overall U.S. immunization rates typically meet. But there are states and communities with vaccination rates much lower than that target that are considered particularly at risk.
Measles is a viral infection that can spread easily through the air to unprotected individuals. Characterized by body rash, cough, high fever, red eyes, and runny nose, it typically lasts five to six days. The virus usually starts with a rash on the face that then
develops on the body, including the inside of the hands and feet. The infection is highly contagious and can be spread four days before the rash appears. Many people mistake the onset of measles for the common cold, and expose others without knowing.
The Department of Health is working with NYC hospitals to prevent additional infection in the emergency departments. Patients are encouraged to describe their symptoms to medical personnel before coming to the doctor’s office to avoid exposing others.
Pediatric physicians are being asked to be sure to vaccinate children who haven’t yet gotten the vaccine. Adults can be revaccinated if they are not sure of their vaccination history. Adults can also get a blood test to determine immunity.
Measles was supposedly eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but is still increasingly common throughout the world. Each year about 60 people in the U.S. are reported with the disease, and last year 189 people were reported, the second largest number of cases since 2000. 28 percent of the people who became ill in 2013 were infected in other countries and spread it to others when they returned.
30 percent of people with measles may develop complications, some of which are very severe. These complications include pneumonia, miscarriage, and brain inflammation. Hospitalization may be necessary, and some who contract the disease die. Infants under one year old who are too young for the vaccine, pregnant women, and people who have weakened immune systems are at the highest risk of complications.
New York health officials urge protecting the family from infection by vaccinating babies when they reach 12 months of age, vaccinating older children to protect babies who are too young for the shot, making sure to get both doses of the vaccine for full protection, and making sure to be fully vaccinated before international travel.
The rise in the number of measles cases in the U.S. clearly demonstrates that it has not been eliminated, and that people still need to guard themselves and their families against infection.
By Beth A. Balen