Measles is a highly contagious viral infection and one of the leading causes of childhood death globally, despite the wide availability of an efficacious vaccination. What’s more disturbing is that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say measles in the United States has hit record numbers in 2014 and the blame lies directly with unvaccinated individuals.
“The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread it to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated, Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDCs National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement. Many of the clusters in the U.S. began following travel to the Philippines where a large outbreak has been occurring since October 2013.
And while travel may be to blame for the start of measles outbreaks in the U.S., it’s unvaccinated individuals who are fueling the spread.
Some of those individuals do not know the importance of vaccination, but others are against vaccines for themselves and their children. A report from IFL Science indicates in 2014, more parents opted out of vaccinating their children than any other year, and now measles cases have hit a 20-year record.
“We have schools in California where the percent of children who exercise the personal belief exemption is well above 50 percent,” Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health’s Center for Infectious Diseases, told the LAT. “That’s going to be a challenge for any disease that is vaccine preventable.”
Approximately 950 kindergartens in California have vaccine exemption rates exceeding 8 percent, which experts indicate is the critical number to maintain herd immunity. Herd immunity is the belief that vaccinating the majority also protects the small number of those who are not immunized. When the numbers hit 8 percent or higher, the number of unprotected children is too large for herd immunity to be effective.
To make matters worse, the CDC states most doctors don’t know what measles presents like in clinic because for so many years measles was considered an eradicated disease.
“Patients who present with fever and rash along with cough, runny nose, or pink eye should be evaluated for measles, especially if the patient is unvaccinated and recently traveled internationally, or was exposed to someone else who has measles or recently traveled,” states the CDC. “If healthcare providers suspect a patient with measles, they should immediately isolate the patient to help prevent the disease from spreading, immediately report the case to their local health department and collect specimens for serology and viral testing.
Current CDC recommendations include two doses of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine for everyone starting at age 12 months. For those traveling internationally, the agency recommends that all U.S. residents older than 6 months receive MMR vaccine, if needed, prior to departure.
Measles is considered highly contagious and can spread by coughing, sneezing, or coming in contact with nasal or throat secretions. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates the measles virus can be active on surfaces for up to two hours and can be contagious days before symptoms manifest as well as days after symptoms resolve.