Measles is spreading in the U.S. As of Feb. 5, there were 50 cases in Washington state and five in Houston. New cases are being added daily. Health officials, including the U.S. surgeon general, are urging parents to get their children vaccinated.
Measles was eliminated in the U.S. 19 years ago. The cases that occur here now are imported from other countries. But that is happening in the U.S. with greater frequency. Dr. Camille Sabella is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“Measles is incredibly contagious,” he said. “Once it gets around the community it’s very difficult because it’s airborne.”
18 state allow exemptions
Eighteen states allow parents to not vaccinate their children if they have moral, personal or philosophical objections to it.
A measles outbreak in the U.S. northwestern state of Washington has state health officials scrambling to contain it. Dr. Jason Hanley sees emergency cases at the medical center, PeaceHealth.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I think the cases are going to get more frequent and spread throughout the country from this epicenter,” he said.
Rural areas in the U.S. tend to have higher numbers of unvaccinated children. But there are significant numbers in cities such as Houston, Austin and Seattle, where immunization rates are lower than in other U.S. cities.
Houston just reported two new cases of measles in children younger than 2, bringing the total to five as of Feb. 6.
Doctors, including U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, are urging parents to get their children vaccinated.
“As United States Surgeon General, I want everyone to know that the best protection is getting vaccinated,” he said.
The measles vaccine is almost 100 percent effective. Doctors recommend that children get two doses.
“With one dose of vaccine, about 95 percent of children will become protected against measles. The reason that we give a second dose is because about 5 percent of children do not respond to the first dose. So with two doses over 99 percent of children are protected against measles.”
Measles can be fatal
Measles makes people very sick, and it is especially dangerous for young children. At the Children’s National Medical Center, Dr. Roberta DeBiasi works as an infectious disease specialist.
“One-third of those cases will end up hospitalized, and that may be due to a variety of complications,” she said.
Complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, can be fatal or lead to permanent disability.
That’s why doctors urge parents to get their children vaccinated.
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Photo “Baby with Measles” by Dave Haygarth. CC BY 2.0.