The Dangers of a Measles Outbreak

Written by Jeremy Farnum on in Health & Wellness

At least 34 people have confirmed cases of measles in Washington state, leading its governor to declare a state of emergency.

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At least 34 people have confirmed cases of measles in Washington state, leading its governor to declare a state of emergency.

“Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease that can be fatal in small children,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in his proclamation.

The Washington State Department of Health has instituted an infectious disease Incident Management Structure to manage the public health aspects of the incident to include investigations, laboratory testing and other efforts to protect communities. Meanwhile, the Washington Military Department is coordinating resources to support DOH and local officials in alleviating the impacts on people, property, and infrastructure.

Of the identified cases, 30 are attributed to people who have not had a measles immunization. Of the 34 cases, 24 are children between the ages of 1 and 10.

Despite the prevalence of measles vaccines, 349 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 26 states and the District of Columbia last year. This is the second-greatest number of annual cases reported since measles was eliminated in the US in 2000. (The greatest was 667 cases reported in 2014).

The last measles outbreak in California was from December 2014 to February 2015, with 125 confirmed cases. The outbreak was linked to two Disney theme parks in Orange County.

The outbreaks, particularly those so wide-spread, are of great concern to healthcare providers. Measles is more than a small rash and fever. It can cause serious health complications, particularly for children younger than 5 and adults older than 20 years of age.  Some common complications include ear infections and diarrhea. About 1 in 4 people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized. Brain swelling, which can lead to brain damage, has been associated with 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles. And 1 or 2 out of 1,000 people with measles may die as a result of the infection.

Some of the more common measles symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • A runny nose
  • Red eyes

It is critically important to remember that measles is very contagious. It spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is so contagious that if one person has it, 9 out of 10 people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected, according to the CDC.

The disease is so potent that a child can get measles by entering a room where a person with measles has been – even up to two hours later.

Although the implementation of an effective national vaccination program led to the declaration in 2000 that measles had been eliminated in the U.S., that just meant it was no longer constantly present.

It is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa.

The best protection against measles is measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. MMR vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles. A child needs two doses of MMR vaccine to provide the best protection against the disease. Be sure to check with your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician to ensure all vaccinations are updated.

If you believe you’ve been exposed, immediately call your physician. Your healthcare provider can look at your vaccination record to see if you might be immune, or can decide to safely evaluate you. If you have measles, you should stay home for four days after you develop the measles rash. This will help prevent the spread of the disease.

Remember, one dose of the measles vaccine is about 90 percent effective at preventing measles. Two doses are 97 percent effective.

If you have any concerns at all about possible exposure, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

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Author: Jeremy Farnum, Information Systems

Jeremy works for Lompoc Valley Medical Center.

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