What to know about the recent measles outbreak

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Cases of measles are starting to pop up in different places in the United States, regardless of the fact those in the medical profession said the virus was eradicated 19 years ago.

An outbreak in Washington has led to about 50 cases, according to various health departments in the state. Recently, and closer to Troup County, three cases of measles were reported in Atlanta, with two cases were confirmed Jan. 13 and the most recent on Jan. 26.

The Georgia Department of Public Health has said all three people are part of the same family and no other cases have been found outside of that family. The department told the Associated Press that of those who were affected by the virus, none of them had been vaccinated.

Hayla Folden, information officer for District 4 of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said there have only been six cases of measles in Georgia in the past 14 years.

She said the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is what prevents measles. More than 95 percent of individuals who get the vaccine after 12 months of age will develop an immunity to all three viruses. A second dose between the ages of four and six will boost the immunity to 98 percent.

Dr. Ricardo Maldonado, infectious disease specialist at East Alabama Medical Center, said the viral illness is very contagious and can be transmitted by coughing or sneezing, then coming into contact with another person. He said it is similar to the flu. 

In 2000, Maldonado said medical professionals announces there were no cases of measles in the U.S. due to the vaccine.

“That tells you how effective the vaccine is,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said what is happening now is people are getting looser with getting vaccinations for their children. Then, families travel to other countries where the virus is more common, and since they are unprotected, they bring the virus back to the U.S. This is when outbreaks occur.

“That is what we are seeing now,” Maldonado said.

He said there is no way for a person to protect themselves, except for the vaccination.

“The anti-vaccine movement is becoming more common where parents want to raise their children in a natural way, but what they are doing is leaving their child open to diseases,” Maldonado said. 

“What I see as a physician is that you would be neglecting the people you love the most.”

He said measles will start with a fever, coughing and sneezing. It will also add a rash and spots similar to chicken pox, but more severe cases can get to the brain and lungs, causing infections.

“It is a virus that starts like a common cold, but in a more severe version could be fatal, because it has the ability to get into organs that other viruses can’t,” Maldonado said.

What’s worse is there is no specific treatment for measles, Maldonado said.

“Basically, you treat the symptoms,” he said. “If it gets more severe, you are basically at the mercy of the virus. That is when it becomes very dangerous.”

Maldonado said Vitamin A can help recover when the illness strikes. Severe cases are not common, especially to younger children with healthy immune systems. However, he said an older person with a weaker immune system could have a higher chance of a dangerous infection if not vaccinated.

Cindy Lesinger, immunization division director, Alabama Department of Public Health, said without a doubt that everybody should be vaccinated.

“The less that children are vaccinated, it makes a community more susceptible,” she said. “With fewer people getting vaccinated, that is where you tend to get an outbreak.”

She said there have been two cases of measles in 29 years in Auburn and both were not vaccinated.

“Immunization, in general, has been so effective it has been counter-effective to our jobs,” Lesinger said.

She said because people don’t see the disease, some individuals are more scared of the vaccine than the virus.

“The increase in the anti-vaccine people is because they have never seen the disease,” Leisner said. 

“If these parents saw the disease, they wouldn’t hesitate.”

She said those born before 1957 are generally considered immune due to the fact the virus was much more common and those people have probably already had it once.