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Is the Northern Neck safe from deadly disease?

Posted on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 at 10:52 am

News stories have been tracking the recent measles outbreak in Washington state that currently stands at 38 cases with two of those patients hospitalized. Another 13 additional cases are still suspected. New York is dealing with a smaller outbreak of 17 cases in an orthodox Jewish community, and three additional states—Hawaii, Georgia, and Oregon—have all reported at least one new case and are watching for any developments.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, public health officials declared measles eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, meaning that measles had not been transmitted for 12 months or more. They pointed to vaccination programs as being highly effective in making that happen.

But just a decade later significant outbreaks began occurring. The lowest was in 2012 with 55 cases, the highest occurred in 2014 with 667 cases. Part of what drives these outbreaks is the ease of the spread of measles. The virus is one of the most infectious diseases known to man. It spreads easily from person to person and can live in the air or on surfaces for up to two hours, so an infected person doesn’t even need to be in the room to pass it on to others. Added to that is a long window of opportunity for infection. People are contagious for four days before and four days after rashes appear.

Since measles is no longer endemic (constantly present) in the United States, how are these outbreaks occurring? That leads to the other factor driving outbreaks. The unvaccinated. Americans without the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine travel to other countries and bring it back with them, as was the case in 2014 when a mission worker traveled to the Philippines and returned to Ohio where it first spread amongst an unvaccinated Amish community. Another measles epidemic occurred in California the following year when an unvaccinated traveler visited Disneyland.

As alarming as some of the recent numbers are, it pales in comparison to what measles used to be in the United States. Before the vaccine was developed in 1963, there were 4 million cases of measles every year. Of those, typically 48,000 were hospitalized, 4,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling), and 500 died.

Given the effectiveness of vaccines against a disease with the potential for serious harm and even death, it would seem a pretty straightforward solution. But many a heated conversation has been had regarding the efficacy and safety regarding vaccines, mostly due to the misinformation out there. The CDC has a wealth of information for parents to make educated choices and provide peace of mind.

For the full article, pick up the latest Westmoreland News 2/6/19