ATLANTA (AP) — The United States seems to be on track to have more measles
cases than any year in more than a decade, with virtually all cases linked
to other countries, including Europe where there’s a big outbreak.
Already there have been 89 cases reported so far. The U.S. normally sees
only about 50 cases of measles in a year thanks to vaccinations.
Health officials are reluctant to make predictions, but acknowledge the pace
of reports is unusually hot.
“It’s hard to say, but we’re certainly getting a lot,” said Dr. Greg
Wallace, who leads the measles, mumps, rubella and polio team at the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Europe, especially France, has been hit hard by measles, with more than
6,500 cases reported in 33 nations. International health officials are
blaming it on the failure to vaccinate all children.
Just about all U.S. outbreaks were sparked by people bringing it here from
other countries. This week, international health officials posted an alert
urging travelers everywhere to get the recommended two doses of vaccine
before flying overseas.
“The risk of getting infection is very high,” said Dr. Cuauhtemoc Ruiz Matus,
an immunization expert with the Pan American Health Organization.
In the U.S., the worst year for measles in the last decade was 2008, when
140 cases were reported. There have been no measles deaths this year, but
health officials warn the disease can be dangerous.
Measles is highly contagious and up to 90 percent of people exposed to an
infected person get sick, experts say. The virus spreads easily through the
air, and in closed rooms, infected droplets can linger for up to two hours
after the sick person leaves. “Measles is really the most contagious of the
vaccine-preventable diseases,” Wallace said.
The disease’s most common symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, eye
inflammation and rash all over the body. It takes about two weeks for the
rash to appear from the time of first infection, and people are contagious
from four days before a rash to four days after.
A small fraction of people get much sicker, developing pneumonia or even
encephalitis. For every 1,000 children who get measles in developed nations,
one or two will die.
Since 2003, there have been no measles-related deaths reported in the United
States, where children have been getting vaccinated against the virus for
almost 50 years. Before the vaccine, nearly all children got measles by
their 15th birthday and epidemics cycled through the nation every two to
three years — generally peaking in the late winter or spring.
In those days, about 450 to 500 Americans died from measles each year, on
average. Vaccination campaigns reduced the toll dramatically, and today,
roughly 90 percent of U.S. kids are protected from measles, according to
studies of teenagers.
Two doses of a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine are recommended for all
children, including a first dose given around a child’s first birthday and a
second dose around the time of preschool. These vaccinations are believed to
last a lifetime.
Children as young as six months old can get a first dose if they’re going to
a country where they are at risk of exposure, health officials say.
“Unfortunately, that’s not always done. Parents often don’t report to their
physician that they are taking their child on an international trip,” said
Dr. Harry Keyserling, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist.
at the Emory University School of Medicine.
One dose is considered 95 percent effective, two doses even better. But
health officials acknowledge it’s not perfect and a few people who are fully
vaccinated will still get sick.
Of the 89 cases reported through the end of last week, 79 were people who
were unvaccinated or who had no documentation of it, Wallace said.
Outbreaks so far this year have included:
—In Florida, five cases linked to an international helicopter trade show
held in Orlando last month, and another three cases in an outbreak in the
Gainesville area traced to a traveler who had been to India.
—Nine cases in Utah, reported last month. They were linked to someone who
apparently was infected in Poland.
—Twenty-one cases in Minnesota, first reported in February. The illnesses
were traced to a Minneapolis-areas child who developed symptoms after
returning from a trip to Kenya.
—Six cases in Pennsylvania, first reported in January, origin unknown.