Monday, April 22, 2019

What You Should Know about Measles & Other Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), from January 1 to April 4, 2019, 465 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 19 states. The states that have reported cases to CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Outbreaks of measles are continuing to be reported across the country. Here’s what you need to know about measles and other contagious diseases, the vaccines that help to prevent them, and considerations for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals during an outbreak. Measles is one of the most contagious viruses known. The virus from an infected person’s sneeze or cough can hang in the air for a couple of hours after the person has left the area. The good news is that the measles vaccine, part of the MMR vaccine, is safe and effective. The most well-known symptom of measles is the rash that begins around the hairline and spreads to the trunk before reaching the arms and legs. Measles also causes several other symptoms that together make infected individuals very uncomfortable for about a week. Small white spots with bluish centers form in the mouth a day or two before the body rash develops; these spots are known as “Koplik’s spots.” Other common symptoms include high fever, cough, fatigue and conjunctivitis (“pink eye”). Measles infections can cause complications that range from diarrhea or ear infections to more severe complications including swelling of the brain (encephalitis), infection of the lungs (pneumonia), seizures or death. About one in three people will experience complications; most of these people will be children younger than five years old or adults 20 years or older. Pregnant women infected with measles are at increased risk of premature labor, spontaneous abortion or delivering a baby with low birthweight. People who are immune compromised are at increased risk for a prolonged infection.
It is important for women to get vaccinated before they get pregnant. The MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) protects you from these diseases. Other types of communicable diseases you may be familiar with that can be prevented by vaccination include mumps, hepatitis A, meningococcal disease, flu (influenza), and pertussis, to name a few. Vaccines contain the same germs that cause disease. But they have been either killed or weakened to the point that they don’t make you sick. Some vaccines contain only a part of the disease germ. All communities have vaccinated and unvaccinated members while unvaccinated people are often thought of as those who have chosen to remain that way; in fact, people can be unvaccinated for any number of reasons. Newborns and young infants may not be old enough to receive certain vaccines, like the influenza or MMR vaccines. Also, some people have medical reasons for not getting one or more vaccines, such as an allergy to a vaccine component. Others may be immune compromised due to medicines like steroids for asthma that cause them to be susceptible to infections. Still others might not be vaccinated because they are receiving chemotherapy for cancer or immune suppressive medicines following an organ transplant. For all of these reasons, virtually every family experience periods of time when they rely on the collective immunity of their community to protect their loved ones. All members of the community contribute to its collective immunity just as every family relies on their community for protection of their loved ones, so too does every family contribute to the relative strength of their community’s ability to stave off the spread of infection. So how does this work? Germs (or pathogens) are like rainwater. They find the weak spots in a community the same way that rainwater finds the weak spots in a leaky roof. When a high percentage of people in a community are protected against a disease, everyone in the community, including those who have not been vaccinated, is at lower risk of being infected with a potential pathogen. This concept is commonly known as herd (or community) immunity. In this case, the roof is effectively sealed. On the other hand, as the unvaccinated population increases, so does the opportunity for a pathogen to spread through the community. This shared environment is important to all families because studies have shown that vaccinated people in a relatively unvaccinated community are at greater risk than unvaccinated people in a highly vaccinated community. In the first case, the roof is too leaky; in the second case, it’s not. Therefore, collectively, the community plays an important role in individual protection, particularly for those who are most susceptible.

As a final thought: the best way to prevent measles (and other vaccine-preventable diseases) is to get vaccinated. The MMR Vaccine in a two-dose series. The CDC recommends children get vaccinated at their first birthday and again prior to kindergarten. For people born during or after 1957, at least one dose of the vaccine is recommended.  The Darke County Health Department holds a vaccine clinic every Tuesday from 8:00 am to 10:30 am and from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Feel free to stop in and get vaccinated!

For more information about communicable diseases, please call 937-548-4196 ext. 235. You can also visit the website at

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