With measles on the rise, unvaccinated are vulnerable, reports CDC

Feb. 5, 2015—As the number of measles cases continues to rise, health officials are urging people to vaccinate their children—and themselves, if necessary—against the disease. Doing so helps to prevent complications of the disease, including brain damage, deafness, pneumonia and death.

The number of U.S. measles cases in 2015 is already as high as those seen in a typical year during the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As of Jan. 30, a total 102 cases had been reported. Most of the cases are linked to an outbreak at 2 Disneyland theme parks in California.

Why the worry about this outbreak?

Measles is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes—and the droplets remain contagious for up to 2 hours afterward. Because the signature rash of the virus doesn’t appear for several days, people often don’t realize they are ill until after they’ve contaminated others.

Widespread vaccination led to measles being declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. Cases did continue to occur, but they usually started overseas and were limited.

What’s changed, reports CDC, is the number of people in this country who are opting out of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination:

  • 1 in 12 children are not getting their first dose of MMR at the recommended time
  • 17 states report less than a 90 percent vaccination rate of at least one dose among their children

The risk that a small outbreak can grow into a big one increases as vaccination rates decrease.

The take-home message
In addition to the classic rash of tiny red spots, symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. The rash and fever usually disappear in a few days, but the disease isn’t without complications: As many as 20 percent of those who get measles will also develop an ear infection, diarrhea or pneumonia. One out of every 1,000 infected people will die, according to CDC.

A single person with measles can infect 90 percent of people nearby, according to CDC—unless the people are protected against the disease by vaccination or a previous measles infection.

CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are calling for people—especially children—to get vaccinated.

The MMR shot is highly recommended and has been shown to be safe and effective for children and adults. Anyone who isn’t sure of their immunization status should check with their doctor: An extra dose isn’t harmful, according to CDC.

If you think your child has the measles, keep him or her home and call your doctor.

 

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