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A Look Inside the Resurgence of Measles

Wikimedia Commons

Measles is a highly contagious, viral disease. Measles was considered eradicated from the U.S. in 2000. In the last month, 2 cases have been reported in McDonough County. The disease has also been reappearing across the country with 189 confirmed cases in 2013.

The resurgence is due to a variety of factors including the ease of international travel both visitors from other countries coming to the U.S. and Americans traveling abroad, children too young to have received the measles vaccination and people not getting immunized.  

Measles is spread through the air by breathing, coughing and sneezing. It is so contagious that anyone exposed to it, who is not immune, will probably get the disease. Most people in the U.S. receive the MMR vaccination protecting against measles, mumps and rubella or the MMRV vaccination which also prevents chickenpox.

Credit Mike Blyth / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
child with measles

Symptoms of measles:

  •   Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Malaise
  • Body rash
  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Death

While measles is rare in countries where vaccination coverage is high, there are still some 20 million cases of measles reported annually and nearly 200,000 deaths worldwide. More than half of those deaths occur in India.

Over the past decade, some parents have been deciding not to have their children vaccinated. Lynnette Cale with the McDonough County Health Department says that movement was started by the publication of a study, which was later found to be falsified, by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that linked the MMR vaccine with autism. 

Credit Screencap of the World Health Organization's website
Global coverage was at 84% in 2012.

Cale says measles is most contagious between 4 days before the rash appears up to four days after. For someone not vaccinated, she says there’s not much that can be done to protect against measles.

“It’s a very highly contagious disease. In fact, just being in the same room, 2 hours later, as somebody who had the measles can put you at risk for it,” said Cale. “There’s not a lot of precautions to take aside from quarantining yourself from anyone you know who has measles or has come in contact with someone who had measles.”

Doctors recommend the first MMR or MMRV vaccination dose be administered between 12-15 months of age and the second between 4-6 years old. But, those who miss that window are able to receive the vaccination later and even into adulthood. People born before 1956 do not need the vaccination as they most likely had measles as a child.

There’s still time left within the 21-day contamination window when it is the most likely another person in McDonough County will report symptoms of measles having been exposed to one of the two previous cases. Both the child and adult involved in those cases have made a full recovery.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.