By Jackeline Iacovella, M.D., chief, Section of Infectious Diseases
In 2000, measles was declared eliminated from the U.S., meaning measles was no longer spreading year-round throughout the country. However, the number of reported cases is currently the highest it’s been since 1996. In 2014 alone, the CDC is reporting over 150 domestic cases across 13 states, including Pennsylvania.
So what happened?
Although there were only 60 domestic cases of measles reported each year from 2000 to 2010, the reported cases has been growing over the past three years. Additionally, measles remains prevalent in many other countries, including those in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa.
As a result, it’s common for travelers visiting these areas to contract the disease and bring it back to the U.S.—which is exactly what happened when an unvaccinated 17-year old became infected with measles during a trip to London and caused a large outbreak to occur in New York.
The fact that the teen wasn’t vaccinated sheds light on another rising issue—many parents are choosing to not vaccinate their children against dangerous and contagious diseases, such as measles.
Although vaccination is currently a hot topic of debate among parents, 92 percent of those who were stricken with measles in 2013 were not vaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status. Before the measles vaccine was introduced, almost all children became infected with the disease by the age of 15. In addition, in the U.S. every year, about 450 to 500 people died from the disease; 48,000 were hospitalized and 1,000 suffered permanent brain damage or deafness.
And when you combine unvaccinated individuals with those bringing the disease back from foreign countries, you end up with an environment in which measles can spread.
Measles is an extremely contagious disease caused by a virus that can spread through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. In fact it’s so contagious, 90 percent of those who are around an infected individual will catch the disease if they aren’t protected.
Measles often starts with a fever and leads to a cough, runny nose and red eyes. Soon after, infected patients develop a rash of tiny red spots, which starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. The concern of the return of measles lies in the fact that it can cause pneumonia, blindness, miscarriage, brain swelling (encephalitis) and even death.
How can parents protect their kids?
The best way to protect your kids is to get them vaccinated with the combination MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella—a vaccine that has been found to be extremely safe and about 97% effective.
According to the CDC, children should receive two doses of the vaccine. The first dose should be administered between 12 and 15 months of age; the second dose before the child enters school at four through six years of age. Your doctor might also recommend the MMRV vaccine, which protects against these three diseases as well as chickenpox.
Those traveling internationally should make sure that they’re up-to-date on their measles vaccines as well. Infants between six and 11 months of age should have one dose of the measles vaccine. Children a year or older should have two doses of the vaccine; the second dose should be administered at least 28 days after the first.
Additionally, adults who never received the vaccine might need to be vaccinated as well. To find out if one or two doses are recommended, be sure to speak with your doctor.