Health officials urge education with measles outbreak in U.S.

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Swain County Health Department and Swain County Schools are among the agencies urging parents and guardians to understand measles since there is a national measles outbreak with cases in 23 states as of Monday— the largest since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000.

Measles is a respiratory disease that spreads in the air by coughing and sneezing. It is a viral illness that generally begins with a high fever, fatigue, cough, congestion and then is followed by a flat, red rash that starts with the head and spreads to the body and arms and legs.

Measles can cause complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis and lead to death in some cases. Young children are particularly at risk. 

While no cases have been reported in North Carolina, there have been cases recorded in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. The CDC reported 695 cases of measles in 22 states as of April 24. 

In the United States, measles is generally contracted by someone who is unvaccinated that travels outside the United States then returns with the virus and other unvaccinated people become exposed to the virus. 

While measles isn’t prevalent in the United States because the majority of the population is vaccinated, it’s still common in other parts of the world. The World Health Organization reported there were 367 measles deaths per day worldwide in 2015 or 134,200 that year.

This year, the higher number of cases in America are due to a few large outbreaks in Washington State and New York that began in late 2018. Once measles is introduced into a community that is unvaccinated it spreads quickly. 

“It’s always a concern if you have anyone that is unvaccinated; it can be transmitted more easily,” said Amber Frost, Swain County Health Department Clinical Services Director. “We do not have high numbers of unvaccinated persons like some areas in the country.”

Health officials say vaccination is the best prevention for measles. The measles-mumps-reubella (MMR) vaccine provides protection against all strains of measles and is given to children in 2 doses. The first does is at 12-15 months old and the second is at 4-6 years old. 

In North Carolina, state law (GS 130A-152) requires all children to be immunized with 2 doses of MMR vaccine unless they have a religious or medical exemption. 

In Swain County, there were less than 1.9 percent of kindergarten students who had not received the required immunizations by day 30, according to the 2018-2019 Kindergarten Immunization Statewide Report Summary. 

“Public Health actively monitors for cases of communicable diseases and takes steps to reduce the spread as indicated. If we were to have a case of measles in our area, some steps that may be taken include: isolation of those who are sick or exposed, increasing vaccination, and we may exclude children who are inadequately immunized from school and/or other activities,” said Frost. “We want to take action now that can aid in preventing an outbreak, and the best way to do that is to make sure that people are vaccinated.”

The vaccine is available at pediatric offices and at the health department to certain individuals. 

The World Health Organization reported there has been a 300% increase in the number of measles cases worldwide compared to the beginning of 2018. 

The CDC reports the rise is a part of a global trend seen over the past few years as other countries struggle with declining vaccination rates and may be exacerbating the situation in the U.S. 

“There are a lot of myths about vaccines—too many to cover—but vaccines are considered to be safe and effective and the best way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases,” Frost stressed.

One of the most common myths is that vaccines cause autism. Frost said several CDC studies have refuted that myth. 

Those who are traveling internationally to areas where measles is a concern, including adults, are urged to check that they are protected. 

If a person has had vaccines in North Carolina, there is a registry that the health department can access, Frost said, but they may have to request the information if it is out of state. 

“If there is no documentation it’s better to go ahead and get the vaccine in advance of traveling,” she said.

Smoky Mountain Times

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