As the number of measles cases in the U.S. continues to rise, healthcare organizations are educating healthcare providers and the public on the signs and symptoms of measles and the importance of vaccination.
As of May 10, there has yet to be a reported case of measles in North Carolina this year. But the growing total of cases in the U.S. is now more than 800, spanning 23 states, the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York City declared a public health emergency due to its influx of measles cases, and the virus continues to spread rapidly.
Measles is an illness caused by a virus that usually occurs during childhood, but adults can also get the disease. The virus that causes measles is easily spread through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. If a person is infected by the virus, it takes 7 to 14 days for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms may include fever, runny nose, watery eyes, hacking cough, white spots that resemble grains of salt on the inside of the cheeks, and a red rash that starts on the face and neck and spreads downward. The disease can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, deafness, and death.
Measles is especially dangerous for babies and younger children. Children entering child care or school in North Carolina are required to be vaccinated against measles, along with 11 other diseases.
The MMR vaccine is highly effective at protecting adults and children from measles. According to the CDC, two doses of the MMR vaccine are 97 percent effective against measles and 88 percent effective against mumps.
“Clusters of people in communities who delay or refuse vaccines increase the likelihood of outbreaks in that community. If this continues, the virus can re-establish itself in this country,” said Pam Gill, the director of infection prevention at Iredell Health System.
In the U.S., a country where vaccinations effectively eliminated measles, most cases in the current outbreak are linked to international travel. Healthcare providers may ask patients about recent international travel, travel to cities or theme parks frequented by international travelers, and history of measles exposures in their communities.
The Measles & Rubella Initiative – a partnership of the CDC, World Health Organization, and other organizations designed to prevent measles and rubella – reported that measles kills almost 90,000 people each year worldwide and is the leading cause of death in children under 5. One person infected with measles can give the virus to 18 others, and 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to the virus become infected, making it one of the world’s most contagious viruses.
The initiative reported that between 2000 and 2016, measles deaths fell by 84 percent and the vaccine saved 20.4 million lives worldwide.
“The community should engage in factual education and communication that includes their healthcare provider on this subject,” Gill said.
Readers can visit measlesrubellainitiative.org to learn more about measles, the initiative, and ways they can contribute to stopping measles.