Before 1963 when a vaccine became available, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year. Also each year an estimated 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain) from measles.
With widespread immunization, measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning that the disease had been absent from transmission for longer than 12 months.
Below are some questions you may have been asking yourself, along with some answers regarding the recent measles outbreak.
If the disease was eliminated, why are we seeing cases again?
There are a few key reasons. First, parents got a false sense of security because it had been eliminated in the Unites States. However, what they did not know was that their children were still at risk from cases coming in from other countries. Almost all initial cases in the United States have come in from another county, like the recent cases in California.
Second, many parents have opted not to vaccinate because of fear of side effects or religious or political reasons.
Third, there is a phenomena called “community” or “herd” immunity. What this means is that if a community has a minimum number of its population immunized against a disease, then the un-immunized will be protected from it spreading.
What happened regarding measles in California?
In early 2015 officials warned the public that a traveler who became infected with measles overseas, then came to California and visited the Disneyland theme park. Analysis from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that this particular measles virus was very similar in nature to the virus that caused an outbreak in the Philippines in 2014.
Is the measles vaccine harmful?
No, the measles vaccine is incredibly safe. Its over 50 years old, has never contained mercury or thimerosal (a mercury-containing organic compound), rarely causes mild symptoms (like fever or rash), and only severe side effects in one out of 1,000,000 cases.
What is the problem with not vaccinating your child?Although the most common symptoms are not that scary, complications can and do happen and they can be lethal.
The common symptoms are:
Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth.
Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. When the rash appears, a child’s fever may spike to more than 104 degrees.
Common measles complications include ear infections and diarrhea. Ear infections occur in about one out of every 10 children with measles and can result in permanent hearing loss.
Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and could die.
As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.
How is the vaccine given?
The CDC recommends all children get two doses of MMR vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Children can receive the second dose earlier, as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose.
Protecting your family from measles really is as straightforward as getting the vaccine. Numerous scientific studies have made it clear there's no link between vaccines and other diseases. For more information, please check out the video below, which will give you more information on the 411 on measles.
Dr. Carmella Sebastian is Florida Blue’s Vice President of Medical Affairs. In this role, she is responsible for leading the development of an integrated clinical strategy to improve members’ health and well-being while creating and implementing a market-facing strategy to best represent the company’s clinical interests and mission. She, her husband Louis and two daughters call Tampa home. Find her on Twitter @Dr_Carm or visit her website, http://www.drcarm.com/.