Measles, a disease once thought to have been eliminated in the United States, is making headlines again this winter. Most of the recent cases have been linked to an outbreak at Disneyland in California in December 2014. Health officials suspect importation of the disease by a tourist at the theme park, which then spread to people who were unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. (The number has crossed 90 and still keeps climbing as new cases in other states continue being linked to travel to California.)
Before the advent of a vaccine in the 1960’s, almost everyone contracted measles because it was so contagious. When individuals infected with the measles virus cough or sneeze, they spread the virus into the air in small droplets which can linger for up to two hours. People with measles are usually infectious about four days before to four days after the appearance of the rash, giving the virus ample time to spread from individual to individual. Measles can be a serious illness, leading to complications ranging from respiratory problems to encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Adult patients often experience more severe complications compared to children.
Fortunately, there is a vaccine against measles. It is called the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. When given properly, the vaccine protects virtually everyone
Why Receiving the Vaccination is so Important
The reason doctors and other health professionals want everyone properly vaccinated against measles is because the vaccine is highly effective in protecting vaccinated individuals from the disease. (It is important to emphasize that there is great benefit for the individual, in addition to benefit to the community.) In addition, by means of what scientists call “herd immunity,” when the vaccination rate within a community is high, those who are vaccinated act as a barrier and help dramatically reduce the risk of infection for those who cannot be immunized – such as very young children or those with compromised immune systems. The presence of vaccinated people helps slow the spread of the virus, giving more protection against outbreaks.
Unfortunately, in some areas of the country this protection by herd immunity has broken down. Some parents decide not to vaccinate their children, mainly because of the publication of a flawed theory suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Although the author of that publication has been discredited and his license to practice medicine has been revoked, these parents are still hesitant to have their children receive the MMR vaccine.
At Reliant Medical Group, we join the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in encouraging you to have your child fully immunized. Remember that all vaccines have been carefully tested for safety and designed to fight potentially deadly infections. The MMR vaccine is part of the U.S. childhood immunization schedule. The vaccine is given in two doses, the first dose is recommended after 12 months of age and the second dose is routinely administered at age four years, but can be given earlier in special situations like during a measles outbreak.
Remember that vaccinations help ensure the health of not just you and your children, but the entire community. Please don’t skip those vaccinations!