October 27th, 2011
04:57 PM ET
There have been 220 cases of measles so far this year in the United States, more than triple the usual 60 to 70 cases per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Europe had more than 26,000 cases reported from January through July of this year, with nine deaths, according to the World Health Organization. So far, no deaths have been reported in the United States this year.
The CDC found of the 220 reported U.S. cases 87% of the people infected didn't get the vaccine, while the other 13% were too young to get it. Most of these cases were people who traveled overseas to Western Europe, Africa or Asia. Even though 91.5% of the U.S. population is immunized, those who are not, are putting themselves and others at risk, says Patsy Stinchfield Director of the Infection Disease Department at Children's Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota.
Two-doses of the measles vaccine is estimated to be 98-99% effective at preventing the disease and provide lifelong immunity. For those who are unvaccinated and exposed to measles, they can be expected to get measles at a rate on the order of 90% or higher, according to the CDC.
Some adults are not vaccinated by choice or because they don't realize they haven't been vaccinated. When it comes to teens and children, 72% aren't immunized because of their parents religious beliefs or personal reasons, according to the CDC.
What parents don't realize is that "measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children," says Stinchfield and she adds that measles can be misinterpreted as simply a bad case of the flu. Children can suffer the consequences of severe measles infection for years before they die from the disease. Brain inflammation and neurological problems are far more likely if a child gets measles disease. Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain can lead to permanent neurological problems.
To vaccinate against measles is far safer than declining or delaying MMR vaccine, says Stinchfield . One in 1,000 cases of measles disease causes encephalitis in children and one in one million doses of measles, mumps rubella vaccine causes brain inflammation, according to the CDC.
Staying current with vaccines is the first line of defense against measles. The recommended age for the first dose of the measles vaccine is around 12 months and the second dose is recommended between the ages of 4 and 6, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends that if babies between 6 and 12 months of age are traveling to areas of the world with known measles outbreaks, they should go ahead and get the first dose of the vaccine about a month before travel is set to begin. This will allow the baby's body enough time to build up protective antibodies. The CDC says if an infant gets the measles vaccine before the recommended age of 1, they will still need 2 more doses of the vaccine.
For those who can't remember if and when they were vaccinated it's important to talk with a doctor, especially before traveling internationally.
Initial symptoms of measles often appear like any other childhood illness, for example; fever, runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Then the rash typically associated with measles develops – usually starting on the face and neck and then spreads downward to the rest of the body. Measles spreads very easily. "It's contagious the 4 days leading up to the rash, the day the rash appears and 4 days afterwards," says Stinchfield. Contact a doctor as soon as symptoms appear.
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