Measles outbreak: Prevention is key
5/6/2019, 9:24 p.m.
On Monday April 29th, word came from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the number of current measles cases nationwide had topped the 700 mark. Will County Health Department (WCHD) Epidemiologist Alpesh Patel says the number one priority for all families is to "make sure everyone is up to date with their immunizations. And if they are not up to date on their MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine, they should contact their medical provider immediately."
Patel says the usual routine is two doses of MMR vaccine as a child: one around the age of 12 months and the other around the child's fourth birthday. "After the first dosage you are about 90% protected against measles, and after the second dosage 97% protected," Patel explained. "Teens and adults with no evidence of immunity against measles should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine, separated by 28 days."
Patel says any teen or adult who does not know their immunization status against measles, meaning not knowing their shots history and/or whether they had the measles as a child, needs to consult their medical provider for lab evidence of immunity.
It is also important to note, Patel says, that if there are circumstances where you would like your child to have one of their MMR doses early, such as if you are about to travel internationally, your medical provider can decide if it's a safe option. "Also," Patel added, "if the child was exposed to someone who has the measles, such as a sibling, but they do not have any symptoms yet, they could perhaps receive the first dosage before 12 months or the second one before four years. It depends on their overall health, or if they have other illnesses that might compromise their immunity."
Measles is an airborne virus in the nose and throat mucus of the infected party that is spread by sneezing and coughing. The virus can live in the air and on surfaces two hours after an infected person has left the room. Patel also points out that what we are being reminded of during this current nationwide outbreak is that the more protected a region is against the measles, the less chance there is of this highly contagious virus spreading. And the less protected, the greater chance.
"Over 200 of these cases are in Rockland County, New York along the Hudson River," said Patel. "Statistics show that 80% of their cases are people who never had any MMR doses. Most disturbing is that 68 of these cases are children under the age of one. This is when the body is most vulnerable, because you do not have a fully developed immune system to fight the virus. And even if the child survives, there could be permanent health issues for the rest of his or her life."
WCHD Communicable Disease Investigator Terra Ihde points out that being immune to the measles because you have had it is absolutely no match for being protected from getting it in the first place. "At one point, it was believed that measles was eradicated in this country because of herd immunity status (where enough of the population is protected by vaccination to essentially stop the spread of an illness). But due to pockets of unimmunized residents, we now have this increased risk of outbreaks."