Over the past couple of years, media discussion about measles has increased, and this is with good reason. The United States has had an increasing number of recorded cases of measles, with more than 200 cases confirmed in 2011. Last year had the highest number of confirmed cases since 1996. Most of these cases are imported by travelers or brought back when people travel abroad. Disease then spreads to susceptible individuals leading to an outbreak.
What is Measles?
Measles is a virus that causes fever, runny nose, cough, and a characteristic rash that starts on the face and moves down the body. About 1 in 10 children with measles will get an ear infection, about 1 in 20 get pneumonia, 1 in 1000 get encephalitis (a serious viral infection of the brain), and 1-2 in 1000 die.
Measles spreads by coughing and sneezing. Respiratory particles can remain infectious in the air and on surfaces for up to 2 hours. Measles is highly contagious and easily contracted when non-immunized people are exposed to infectious particles.
How Bad Can it Be?
A history lesson from the CDC’s website on measles teaches us the following:
“Before measles vaccine, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. Each year in the United States about 450-500 people died because of measles, 48,000 were hospitalized, 7,000 had seizures, and about 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage or deafness.”
Measles is Preventable
Measles can be prevented by vaccination with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine! This is great news! It is not new information, but think about the fact that just 2 injections provide lifelong protection from this and other viruses. Pretty great stuff! This vaccine is recommended for children at 1 year and 4 years of age as well as older persons who have not been previously vaccinated.
I thought measles had been eradicated from the United States…
The cases that are reported in the US are being imported from elsewhere in the world, but waning vaccination rates have led to an increased number of outbreaks in the US and Western Europe. This summer, the Olympics will take place in London. A travel advisory has been issued regarding measles vaccination and transmission due to outbreaks of measles in Europe this year. Increased importation from travelers to the Olympics is of concern here in the United States.
You can protect your family by ensuring that all those who can be vaccinated have been.