Health officials stress importance of measles vaccinations

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Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines sit in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y.


Staff Writer

Monday, May 20, 2019

The state Department of Health and Human Resources is encouraging people to take preventative measures against the spread of measles and reminding everyone that vaccination is the best way to protect themselves and their loved ones from the disease,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 839 cases of measles in 23 states as of May 10. This is an increase of 75 cases from the previous week and is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

Though no measles cases have been reported in North Carolina so far this year, outbreaks have been recently reported in Georgia and Tennessee. Last year, three cases of measles were reported in Johnston County in North Carolina. One case occurred in an unvaccinated traveler who became ill after returning from overseas, and the disease spread to other members of the household, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The last large measles outbreak in North Carolina occurred in 2013, when 23 cases occurred after an unvaccinated traveler returned from India to a community with a low vaccination rate.

According to information provided by the CDC. most people who get the measles are unvaccinated. Travelers to other countries are the most likely to spread the disease as measles is common in other countries. And most outbreaks occur in communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.

"Measles is a highly contagious disease and it spreads quickly in children and adults who are not vaccinated," state Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Tilson in a statement. "All North Carolinians should ensure they and their families are up-to-date on their MMR vaccine.”

The Division of Public Health sent a memo earlier this month to clinicians across North Carolina with recommendations to rapidly identify measles cases and control the spread of infection, the statement from the state Department of Health and Human Resources said.

"Vaccines are one of the most important public health successes in protecting the health of our people and preventing disease and death — especially among our most vulnerable community members," Tilson said. "The science is very clear; the MMR vaccine is highly effective, safe and readily available. We hope these preventable outbreaks will encourage everyone who has not been vaccinated to contact their primary health care provider or local health department."

Measles can be prevented by the combination MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, according state health officials. Public health experts recommend all children receive two doses of MMR vaccine, with the first dose beginning at 12 months of age and a booster at four to six years of age. Adults born in 1957 or later who have not already been vaccinated should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine.

Certain adults should get two doses. These include college students, health care workers and people who travel internationally. A second or “booster” dose is not routinely recommended for other adults who have received at least one dose of a measles vaccine, state health officials said.

Measles is a respiratory disease that is spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. Initial symptoms may include fever, runny nose, watery red eyes and cough. This is followed by a rash that can spread over the entire body. Measles can also lead to pneumonia and other complications, especially in young children, and poses serious risks for pregnant women, including miscarriage and premature birth.

Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3 million to 4 million people got the measles each year in the United States and approximately 500,000 cases were reported each year to the CDC. Of these, 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized and 1,000 developed encephalitis — brain swelling — from measles, according to information from the CDC.

Anyone with concerns about the measles vaccine should discuss them with their doctor, their child’s pediatrician or with someone at the Nash or Edgecombe county health departments.

For other information about where to receive the measles vaccine, visit https://vaccinefinder.org. More information about measles is available at http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/diseases/rubeola.html.