Measles off to a fast start

Health officials are worried about recent U.S. measles outbreaks that so far have caused more illnesses than at the same point of any year since 1996.

Authorities say 129 cases in 13 states were reported by mid-April, the bulk of them in California and New York City. Most were triggered by travelers who caught the virus abroad and spread it in the United States among unvaccinated people. Many of the travelers had been to the Philippines, where a recent measles epidemic has caused at least 20,000 illnesses.

The U.S. numbers remain relatively tiny, but officials are worried to see case counts growing.

Since 2000, the highly contagious disease has been considered eliminated in the United States, aside from occasional small outbreaks sparked by overseas travelers. For most of the last decade, the nation was seeing only about 60 cases a year.

But since 2010, the average has been nearly 160.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said the increase in cases may unfortunately be the new norm.

Contributing to the problem: Decades of measles vaccination campaigns have been so successful that many doctors have never seen a case, don’t realize how contagious it is, and may not take necessary steps to stop it from spreading.

Among the 58 cases reported from California, at least 11 were infected in doctor’s offices, hospitals or other health-care settings, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The measles virus spreads easily through the air, and in closed rooms. Infected droplets can linger for up to two hours after the sick person leaves.

It causes a fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. In rare cases, measles can be deadly, and is particularly dangerous for children. Infection can also cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.

Before a vaccine became available about 50 years ago, nearly all children got measles by their 15th birthday. In those days, nearly 500 Americans died from measles each year.

A bad resurgence of measles hit the nation in 1989 to 1991, when 55,000 cases were reported. That flood of cases was blamed on a widespread failure to vaccinate uninsured children.

In reaction, the federal government started a program in 1994 to pay for vaccines for kids who are uninsured, in the Medicaid program, or meet other criteria.

Today, the measles vaccination rate is above 95 percent for children of kindergarten age. But there has been a small but growing trend of parents seeking exemptions for their children from school-entry vaccination requirements for religious or philosophical reasons. Other parents have tried to space out, or delay, measles vaccinations because of fears that the shot will trigger autism or other problems.

About 17 percent of U.S. cases this year were vaccinated. Health officials say that although the vaccine is very effective, it’s not perfect.

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Posted by on Apr 26 2014. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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