GREENE COUNTY — While no cases of measles have been reported in Ohio, outbreaks are continuing to be reported across the country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), from Jan. 1 to April 4, 465 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 19 states. The states that have reported cases to CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
Greene County Public Health (GCPH) has issued the following information about measles, other contagious diseases, and vaccinations.
Measles is one of the most contagious viruses known. The virus from an infected person’s sneeze or cough can hang in the air for a couple of hours after the person has left the area. The good news is that the measles vaccine, part of the MMR vaccine, is safe and effective.
The most well-known symptom of measles is the rash that begins around the hairline and spreads to the trunk before reaching the arms and legs. Measles also causes several other symptoms that together make infected individuals very uncomfortable for about a week. Small white spots with bluish centers form in the mouth a day or two before the body rash develops; these spots are known as “Koplik’s spots.” Other common symptoms include high fever, cough, fatigue and conjunctivitis (“pink eye”).
Measles infections can cause complications that range from diarrhea or ear infections to more severe complications including swelling of the brain (encephalitis), infection of the lungs (pneumonia), seizures or death. About one in three people will experience complications; most of these people will be children younger than 5 years old or adults 20 years or older. Pregnant women infected with measles are at increased risk of premature labor, spontaneous abortion or delivering a baby with low birthweight. People who are immune-compromised are at increased risk for a prolonged infection. Very rarely, in previously healthy people, measles infection can cause a deadly disease called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, or SSPE. SSPE causes degeneration of the central nervous system leading to problems with intellect and behavior, weakness, seizures and subsequent death. Symptoms of SSPE typically develop years after the initial measles infection.
Seven outbreaks (3 or more cases) have been reported in 2019 in the following jurisdictions: Rockland County, New York; New York City; Washington; Santa Cruz County, California; Butte County, California; Michigan; New Jersey.
These outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel and Ukraine, where large measles outbreaks are occurring. Travelers should make sure they are vaccinated against measles before traveling internationally.
Congenital Rubella Syndrome
Congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) is a condition that occurs in a developing baby in the womb whose mother is infected with the rubella virus. Pregnant women who contract rubella are at risk for miscarriage or stillbirth, and their developing babies are at risk for severe birth defects with devastating, lifelong consequences. CRS can affect almost everything in the developing baby’s body.
The most common birth defects from CRS can include: deafness, cataracts, heart defects, intellectual disabilities, liver and spleen damage, low birth weight and skin rash at birth.
Less common complications from CRS can include: glaucoma, brain damage, thyroid and other hormone problems and inflammation of the lungs.
Although specific symptoms can be treated, there is no cure for CRS. Since there is no cure, it is important for women to get vaccinated before they get pregnant. The MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) protects you from these diseases.
Communicable diseases & vaccinations
Other types of communicable diseases you may be familiar with that can be prevented by vaccination include mumps, hepatitis A, meningococcal disease, flu (influenza), and pertussis. Vaccines contain the same germs that cause disease. (For example, measles vaccine contains measles virus, and Hib vaccine contains Hib bacteria.) But they have been either killed or weakened to the point that they don’t make you sick. Some vaccines contain only a part of the disease germ.
A vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, you develop immunity to that disease, without having to get the disease first. This is what makes vaccines such powerful medicine. Unlike most medicines, which treat or cure diseases, vaccines prevent them.
While unvaccinated people are often thought of as those who have chosen to remain that way; in fact, people can be unvaccinated for any number of reasons. Newborns and young infants may not be old enough to receive certain vaccines, like the influenza or MMR vaccines. Also, some people have legitimate medical reasons for not getting one or more vaccines, such as an allergy to a vaccine component. Others may be immune-compromised due to medicines like steroids for asthma that cause them to be susceptible to infections. Still others might not be vaccinated because they are receiving chemotherapy for cancer or immune suppressive medicines following an organ transplant.
Vaccines don’t work 100 percent of the time. For example, 95 of every 100 people who receive a single dose of measles vaccine will be protected, but five will not. These five vaccinated people who didn’t develop an immune response to the vaccine are just as susceptible to disease as people who aren’t vaccinated. For all of these reasons, virtually every family experiences periods of time when they rely on the collective immunity of their community to protect their loved ones.
Just as every family relies on their community for protection of their loved ones, so too does every family contribute to the relative strength of their community’s ability to stave off the spread of infection.
So how does this work? Germs (or pathogens) are like rainwater. They find the weak spots in a community the same way that rainwater finds the weak spots in a leaky roof. When a high percentage of people in a community are protected against a disease, everyone in the community, including those who have not been vaccinated, is at lower risk of being infected with a potential pathogen. This concept is commonly known as herd (or community) immunity. In this case, the roof is effectively sealed. On the other hand, as the unvaccinated population increases, so does the opportunity for a pathogen to spread through the community.
This shared environment is important to all families because studies have shown that vaccinated people in a relatively unvaccinated community are at greater risk than unvaccinated people in a highly vaccinated community. In the first case, the roof is too leaky; in the second case, it’s not. Therefore, collectively, the community plays an important role in individual protection, particularly for those who are most susceptible.
According to GCPH, the best way to prevent measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases is to get vaccinated. Contact your primary health care provider to schedule an appointment today. For more information about communicable diseases, call 937-374-5638 or email [email protected] or visit www.gcph.info.