A CDC alert has been issued regarding a measles outbreak in the United States, 118 cases have been reported in the past five months and is spreading rapidly. Watch for signs and symptoms of the disease, supportive care and prevention by getting up-to-date vaccinations if needed.
In the early 2000s, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared the highly infectious and deadly disease, Measles, as eliminated in the United States. The disease is making an alarming comeback in the country due to foreign travelers’ bringing the measles home with them. The CDC says this year has seen the highest number of cases in fifteen years and has mapped out states they are already seeing infected persons either from being imported into the country or by unknown sources.
CDC Map of Measles Outbreak
In 2011, the first five months of the year has had118 reported cases in 23 states, which has risen tremendously in comparison to 56 cases in seven years from 2001 and 2008. Of the Measle victims, 40% have been hospitalized and most are babies and small children and seem affected more severely in most cases. Europe is another country fighting a large outbreak in 33 countries with France being hit hardest with an epidemic of 10,000 cases already this year.
A travel alert has been issued by the CDC especially for those traveling with children under the age of one year who are too young to be vaccinated. 15% of the new cases are in this age range. 21 cases of measles alone have spread through Minnesota and 1 case confirmed in Michigan.
Measle symptoms begin as a dry cough and a headache in the first 10 -12 days after exposure. Infected persons then develop fever, runny nose, pinkeye, and sore throat. Then over the next 2-3 days, white spots (Koplik’s spots), a positive sign of measles, start appearing along with red spots that most people recognize as the measles. These spots show up in the mouth and on the face and spread downward. Fevers spike up to 105 degrees, which can cause complications.. Four days before the blotchy, red rash develops a person is highly contagious; the rash spreads from head to toe. After the rash disappears a person is still contagious an additional four days. This is a long period of time in all that a person is contagious which makes the disease easily spread to others.
CDC says, up to 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to the measles will get sick. The disease lives in the mucus of their nose and throat and spreads through tiny airborne droplets. The measle virus is breathed in through the mouth, nose and throat from others coughing, sneezing or talking. It is also caught when a healthy person touches their face with their own hands and have touched an object with the virus.
Even if a sick person leaves the area anything another person touches or comes into contact with will continue to spread the virus for hours. For instance, a person who picks up a magazine, touches a door knob or shakes the hand of someone else can get sick if they rub their eyes, nose or mouth and give the disease a point of entry into the body.
Reasons for the rapid return of the measles are clear; it has been imported from Americans traveling in foreign countries that have outbreaks of the measles. Children under age 1, traveling with parents, are too young for the vaccine and catch the disease bringing it back to other people. Anyone who has never been vaccinated or is under vaccinated will also catch it and spread it further. Most people infected are those never vaccinated with the MMR Vaccine, which was developed in 1963, or parents with religious reasons for not vaccinating their children, and also parents who worry about vaccinations being linked to autism.
The measle virus is a very serious and can cause complications like ear infection, laryngitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, and the worse case, encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain. Encephalitis can cause convulsions, coma or death and happens in 1 of every 1000 cases. Swelling of the brain can cause long-term neurological problems and may strike soon after measles or several years later. Pregnant women can have miscarriage or preterm birth of the baby.
Once a person catches the measles there is no anti-viral medicine to help treat them. The disease must run its long and difficult course. Caregivers can only provide supportive care such as bed rest, using a humidifier and taken fever reducers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen. It is important to make sure a person is hydrated and their fever down as low as possible. Recently it has been discovered that vitamin A is a good supplement during the infected period.
The best prevention is vaccination, according to CDC, children need their first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 -15 months of age then the second dose between 4 and 6. Infants cannot be given the MMR shot. The vaccine is 95% effective and saves much suffering and many lives. Before the vaccine was available, 3-4 million Americans got the measles yearly, 400 – 500 people died, and 48,000 were hospitalized, while 1,000 became chronically disabled from encephalitis. In 2006, countries without the vaccine available saw 242,000 people killed and sadly most of those were children.
CBS News Photo
The CDC advises everyone including adults to get vaccinated, especially if you attend college, work in the medical field, and travel internationally or a woman of child bearing years. Those who do not need the vaccine include those born before 1957, have a blood test showing immunity to measles, mumps and rubella, or already had two doses of the MMR. This can include one dose of MMR plus a second dose of measles only vaccine or one dose of MMR and are low risk for being exposed to measles.