(U.S.) – Doctors are sending a warning to the public that what’s currently happening in Europe could be the future of the U.S. if changes aren’t made.
According to the World Health Organization, so far this year there have been 41,000 cases of measles in Europe and 40 deaths. Officials note this could be a warning sign as to how quickly things can get out of hand should parents choose not to vaccinate their children.
Local officials note that because measles is relatively rare here in the U.S., it’s possible many do not have an idea of the severity of the illness and how contagious it really is. “Measles is a highly contagious virus that can result in multiple complications including diarrhea, otitis media, pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death,” explained Christine Daugherty, Director of Nursing & Infection Control at Trinity Hospital Twin City.
The virus lives in the nose and throat and can be spread from person to person through sneezing and coughing. The measles virus can live in the air for up to two hours after the infected person has left the area.
Daugherty indicated that symptoms of measles include an escalating fever that can get as high as 105 and last 2-4 days, and then a cough followed by a rash that is a flat, reddened area on the skin that has bumps, sometimes fluid filled. The rash can last roughly 5-6 days. The incubation period for measles after exposure averages 10-12 days. Daugherty noted that during this time the person may also develop a runny nose and irritation of the eyes.
Approximately 30% of measles cases have complications. Daugherty explained that pneumonia that occurs during measles illness can be viral or bacterial and is the most common cause of measles-related death. The illness most often affects those aged 5 to 20 years old.
Long-term effects are rare but possible. “There is a rare central nervous system disease that can be a result of persistent measles virus infecting the brain,” said Daugherty. “Onset occurs an average of 7 years after measles. The range is 1 month to 27 years after infection and it can result in deterioration of behavior and intellect, awkward muscle movements, myoclonic seizures and eventually death. This is known as Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis and is extremely rare.”
Here in the U.S., the measles vaccine programs have been operating since 1963, decreasing the illness by more than 95%. Reports indicate that during 1989-1991, there was a resurgence of measles with the most likely cause being the low vaccination coverage. At that time, as few as 50% of children were being vaccinated before their second birthday. By 2002, the goal of eliminating measles in the Americas was achieved. But, experts note a resurgence is beginning again as more and more people deny vaccinations. “Those who are vaccinated develop an immunity to the measles,” added Daugherty. “When the vaccine schedule is followed as defined, lifelong immunity can be achieved.”
“Do the research,” stressed Daugherty. “Measles can be a devastating illness. Some people think of measles as just a little rash and fever that clears up in a few days, but measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than 5 years of age. There is no way to tell in advance the severity of the symptoms your child will experience.”
She also indicated that your child can still get measles here in the United States. “You have the power to protect your child against measles with a safe and effective vaccine.” Additionally, preventative steps include washing your hands often and avoiding others with viral-like illnesses.
As of October 2018, 142 cases of measles have been confirmed in 25 states and the District of Columbia.