Health department urges precautions against measles

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) are urging Arkansans to take advantage of safe and proven vaccines to prevent a possible outbreak of measles in the Natural State.

According to a press release from ADH, the diagnosis of even a single case of measles is a threat to public health because measles is highly contagious. One infected person can easily infect 12-18 others, it says, and can remain contagious for four days before symptoms develop. An infected person can also remain contagious for four days after they are symptom-free, the release says. Measles is spread through coughing and sneezing. It starts with high fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat and progresses to a rash that spreads over the body. Children are most vulnerable, the release says, but adults also are at risk.

There is no anti-viral treatment for measles. Measles is a serious illness:

The release says 30 of every 100 people with measles will develop complications that may require intervention or even hospitalization, including ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, brain damage or disability.

It says about 25 of every 100 measles patients end up in a hospital. One person in every 1,000 people with measles experiences brain swelling, it says. Measles can be deadly and one to two people in every 1,000 with measles will die, the release says.

Measles was eradicated in the United States in 2000, the release says, but the disease has been coming back in recent years, partly due to low vaccination rates in some communities. In 2018, 26 states, including Arkansas and the District of Columbia, reported a total of 349 measles cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it says.

Already in 2019, 10 states have reported cases of measles, the release says. Washington state has a current outbreak of more than 60 cases that has resulted in its governor declaring a state of emergency, the release says. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Oregon and Texas also had outbreaks this year, it says. No measles cases have been confirmed in Arkansas so far in 2019.

Dr. Connie A. Meeks, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Arkansas Blue Cross, says Arkansas is fortunate to be measles-free thus far in 2019 but cautions that, without continued vigilance, that good fortune could vanish.

“The fact that measles was controlled in this country by 2000, less than 40 years after vaccines were developed, was proof that vaccinating our population was the right thing to do,” Meeks said. “It is a strategy that has saved countless lives and prevented untold amounts of illness and suffering. But it is a strategy that requires diligence and consistency.”

“Measles should not be taken lightly,” said Dr. Dirk Haselow, ADH state epidemiologist. “We strongly encourage all Arkansans to follow the CDC recommendations for vaccinations and assure that you are fully vaccinated against measles.”

The current resurgence of measles appears to be the result of two trends coming together, the release says. Both of these trends have been factors in the Washington state outbreak:

• Exposure of international travelers to ongoing outbreaks of measles in other countries. These travelers sometimes become infected abroad but become ill with measles after entering the United States.

• Low childhood vaccination rates in communities in certain parts of the United States.

“The MMR vaccine is very safe,” Meeks added. “In fact, the risk posed by not being immunized is much higher. The most common side effects of the vaccine are fever and mild rash.”

The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella is covered under most health plans and is readily available at medical clinics, pharmacies and ADH local health units, the release sats. Children without insurance can get the vaccine at no cost at any ADH local health unit and many medical clinics throughout the state.

The CDC guidelines for the MMR vaccine are as follows:

• Children should receive the MMR vaccine in two doses:

• The first dose at 12-15 months of age.

• A second dose when the child is 4-6 years old.

Adults who were born before 1957 generally are considered immune to the measles virus because they likely had the disease as a child. For that reason, vaccination is not recommended for this age group. Adults who are in professions that put them at higher risk for exposure to the virus should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine.

All other adults who have not had measles and have not been vaccinated should receive one dose of the MMR vaccine.

Children and adults who plan to travel outside the United States and have not been vaccinated already also should get the MMR vaccine.

For more information, visit CDC.gov/measles/index.html or CDC.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html for the latest update on recent outbreaks.

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