More people have come down with measles in the U.S. during the first four months of this year than the start of any year since 1995, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the midst of the worst outbreak the U.S. has experienced in decades, health officials are warning doctors, parents and others to be on the lookout for the measles virus, which is potentially deadly.
Measles infections have been identified in 13 states and infected 129 people so far in 2014. California is the worst hit. There have been 58 cases in the state so far this year through Apr.14. That is the most cases of measles in the state in almost two decades. In fact, the average number of measles cases in California was nine per year for the last 13 years.
The CDC says part of the California cases stemmed from people visiting the Philippines, which has been dealing with a large measles outbreak with at least 20,000 suspected cases in the nation. Visitors may have picked up the disease and brought it back to the U.S., then infected others who either could not be vaccinated against the measles or intentionally remained unvaccinated.
There have been no measles deaths in the U.S. since 2003. However, faced with the worst outbreak in decades, officials are concerned as the numbers infected mount. In general, 1 to 2 percent of measles cases are fatal.
Measles is a very contagious respiratory disease that had been largely eradicated in the U.S. since 2,000 because of vaccinations. However, a growing number of parents are choosing to not vaccinate their children. As a result, diseases like the measles and whooping cough (aka pertussis) are reappearing and spreading.
The National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases is concerned that parents and even physicians who have never seen measles, or have not seen it in decades, may be unaware of the early signs. Most people assume the telltale rash is the sign of measles; however, people can be contagious for up to four days prior to developing any apparent symptoms. Generally, people with measles – typically very young children – have a fever, runny nose, cough and a distinctive rash all over. About 10 percent also get an ear infection and one in 20 will develop pneumonia.
According to the CDC, vaccinations have been very successful in the past. The CDC estimates that the measles vaccine has prevented an 323 million illnesses and 732,000 deaths. Before vaccinations were widely available, approximately 500,000 people in the U.S. were infected with the virus each year. That number fell to about 60 a year by the start of this century. However, since 2010, measles cases crept up to an average of 155 cases per year. This year, given the 129 people infected to far, the numbers will clearly push higher.
Vaccinating children is still a social norm in this country, but parents who choose not to vaccinate their children may be creating a health issue for others. In analyzing the current measles outbreak, the CDC has reported that, of the 58 California cases, 25 of those infected were not immunized. Nineteen did not get vaccinated because of philosophical objections, three were too young to be vaccinated and three others did not for unspecified reasons. Of the remainder, 18 had no documentation of vaccinations. Eleven had received the measles vaccine, which is about 97 percent effective, but it did not protect them.
By Dyanne Weiss