Over the last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 67 cases of measles traced to Disneyland, and the number continues to rise. This was a souvenir people didn’t plan for. For a disease that was declared eliminated from the U.S. in the year 2000, why has it made a comeback and how can an outbreak be prevented?
Scottish physician, Francis Home, found in 1757 that measles is an infection in the blood. In 1912, measles cases began to be tracked. In the first decade of reporting, 6,000 deaths were related to measles. Before the vaccine became available in 1963, nearly all children got the measles before they were age 15. Three to four million people in the U.S. were infected each year with the disease, and about 400-500 people per year died from it. By 1981, the number of measles cases dropped by 80% from the previous year. An outbreak in 1989 resulted in recommending a second dose of the MMR vaccine. Children generally receive the first dose at 12-15 months old and the second when they enter Kindergarten (age 4-6).
Measles is still very common in other countries, with 20 million people getting it yearly worldwide. The virus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly in areas where people are not vaccinated. The virus lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person and is spread through sneezing and coughing. The virus can remain active and contagious on a surface for up to two hours. Transmission can begin four days before symptoms appear. The symptoms of measles, including fever, cough, runny nose, and red/watery eyes, appear 7-14 days after becoming infected. Two to three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots appear inside the mouth. Three to five days later a rash of small raised bumps breaks out, spreading from the head to the rest of the body. A person’s fever may reach more than 104 degrees. After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades.
The increase in measles cases in the U.S. is alarming because it is highly contagious and can have serious complications. One in three infected persons will have serious complications including pneumonia and swelling of the brain, which can lead to death. There is no treatment for measles, however taking Vitamin A may make the illness less severe. You most likely won’t get infected if you have been vaccinated, and the risk is even lower if you have had both recommended doses. Adults who don’t know their vaccination history should get at least one dose. Some parents are wary of vaccinating their children, and only half of Americans feel childhood vaccines are safe and effective. Large outbreaks are always due to having a group of under-vaccinated children become exposed. Many of these children are unvaccinated immigrants, as well as people who have traveled to infected areas of the world and become exposed there, bringing the disease into the U.S. With the measles vaccine being included in MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), those who are not properly vaccinated may also contract mumps. Whooping cough outbreaks are also occurring due to limited vaccine effectiveness and refusal to vaccinate. Measles could be completely eliminated worldwide with widespread vaccination of children.
Pohle, Allison. “10 Essential Facts About Measles.” Healthy Living. Everyday Health, 30 Jan 2015. Web. 1 Feb 2015.
“Measles (Rubeola)”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 Nov 2014. Web. 1 Feb 2015.