Vail Daily health feature: Measles outbreak raises concern, awareness
Special to the Daily
This past January, national news outlets spread word of a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in California. This breaking story was shocking to many, as measles had previously been declared eliminated in the U.S. in the year 2000.
“The measles outbreak raises concerns about vaccination rates across the country and how both children and adults should best protect themselves from getting measles,” said Vail Valley Medical Center’s President and CEO Doris Kirchner. “Our experts agree vaccinations are critical to community health.”
The measles outbreak at Disneyland is part of a significant rise in the number of measles cases occurring in the U.S. every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes this increase to more measles cases reported in foreign countries that Americans typically travel to, and small sectors around the country where unvaccinated people have spread measles to others who are also unvaccinated.
The CDC recommends children receive two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, first between 12 and 15 months and again between ages 4 and 6. The first dose is 93 percent effective, and the two doses together are 97 percent effective. If parents are traveling with infants younger than 12 months, it’s recommended to get the first dose early in order to protect the child.
FEVER, THEN RASH
Jason Moore, epidemiologist at Vail Valley Medical Center, said for adults, if you received at least one dose of the vaccine, you are still protected. If you’re unsure if you received the MMR immunization or can’t locate your childhood vaccination records, there’s no harm in getting the vaccine again.
One of the most common serious complications from measles is pneumonia — one of the leading causes of death for children younger than 5 worldwide. Moore said one out of every 1,000 children with measles will die of the infection. In addition, one of the most feared complications from the measles virus is permanent neurological complications, which sometimes occur.
The initial symptoms of measles include a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Three to five days later, a rash with flat red spots appears on the face.
“People are contagious about four days before to four days after the rash,” Moore said. “Usually the rash appears two weeks after they’re exposed. They’re starting to feel crummy a few days before the rash, but there’s nothing hard and fast (indicating measles until) the rash comes.”
‘RELY ON EVIDENCE’
The initial symptoms of measles are difficult to distinguish among other viruses, like the common cold. Moore said before a rash appears, if symptoms progress and your child (or you) is getting worse, see a doctor who can determine whether or not there’s a risk.
“If the child is vaccinated, the likelihood that it’s measles is very low,” Moore said. “In the instance of a vaccinated child (getting) sick, it leads you more towards some of the other (viruses).”
So far this year there has been only one reported case of measles in the state of Colorado (in El Paso County), as a result of the outbreak at Disneyland. However, according to 2013-14 school records data, only 82 percent of kindergartners in Colorado are fully vaccinated against measles — much lower than the national average of 95 percent. One reason for this is the state’s higher exemption rate, as certain laws allow parents to oppose vaccinations for their child on the grounds of personal or religious beliefs.
A quick Internet search will reveal that one of the reasons parents choose not to vaccinate their children is due to fears of immunizations causing autism. This stems from a 1998 British study by Andrew Wakefield that concluded there might be a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism. This study was later widely discredited and Wakefield was stripped of his medical license.
Moore said Wakefield’s refuted study “really hurt society” in that it allowed for misinformation to influence the general public’s perception of immunizations, downplaying the serious risks associated with not getting vaccinated.
“We should rely on the evidence,” Moore said. “The general public trusts the mainstream healthcare (system) by and large for the medicine we use and the treatment of life-threatening disease on a regular basis. I see this as no different with children. To date, there’s no good science demonstrating that vaccines are associated with autism.”
PREVENTING CHILDHOOD DISEASES
Locally, Eagle County Public Health offers immunizations by appointment in Avon, Eagle and El Jebel. Colorado Mountain Medical makes the vaccination available in their Vail, Edwards and Eagle locations. The Vaccines for Children Program provides immunizations for children younger than age 18, and no child is denied access to a vaccine due to inability to pay.
Unfortunate as the measles outbreak at Disneyland is, it has raised more awareness about vaccines and the serious health risks associated with childhood diseases. It’s easy to forget the time when children getting seriously ill or dying from viruses like measles was a common occurrence. The important thing is many of these childhood diseases are now preventable due to immunizations.
“Get vaccinated. That’s the best thing,” Moore said. “I’m hoping increasing public education will help combat the issue.”
Moore considers vaccinations to be one of the greatest public health initiatives in the history of medicine, and if even one child dies from a virus that a vaccine is readily available for, that’s one too many.
Rosanna Turner was contracted by Vail Valley Medical Center to write this story. For more information about VVMC, visit http://www.vvmc.com.