Coming together to end the measles outbreak

February 7, 2019 Amy Compton-Phillips

Washington state has a new record that no one is feeling good about.  We have the highest number of reported measles infections since 1996.  Cases are identified in Clark and King County, with a threat of the outbreak spreading to Portland, Oregon.

Measles is dangerous and can be deadly.  One out of every 1,000 measles cases progresses to acute encephalitis, which can result in permanent brain damage. Unfortunately, one or two out of every 1,000 children who are infected with measles will die from respiratory and neurological complications.

Our caregivers can’t fight this highly contagious virus alone.  Although we are committed to treating those afflicted by this terrible disease, it is going to take a community to come together and fight this outbreak.

Should you vaccinate? Yes. Absolutely yes.

The best thing you can do for your family and your children’s health is to get a measles vaccination. It’s also the best thing you can do to protect the vulnerable children and elderly in your neighborhood. Known as the MMR –or measles, mumps, and rubella –vaccine, one dose is about 93% effective at preventing measles if you come into contact with the virus. Two doses are about 97% effective.

School-age children should have already received the vaccine in two doses: the first between the ages of 12 and 15 months and the second between the ages of four and six years old. However, if you haven't done it yet, you can still get yourself, and your family member vaccinated.  It's the best thing you can do.

Know that the MMR shot is safe, and it is effective at preventing measles, along with mumps and rubella.  Vaccines can have side effects, just like any medicine.  However, most children who get the MMR vaccine have no problems.  Despite rumored links to autism, scientists in the United States and other countries have studied the MMR shot and none have found a connection with autism.

We’ve been heartened to hear that even families who don’t typically vaccinate their children are taking note during this outbreak.  However, in some communities, where vaccination rates are as low as 60 percent, we still have to do better.

Health symptoms to watch carefully

Signs of measles include high fever, body rash, stuffy nose, and red eyes.  The rash can last two to three weeks, and you remain infectious four days before and four days after the rash appears.  Plus, the virus can linger up to two hours after an infected person leaves an area, so someone unvaccinated can become infected even when they are not in contact with a person who is sick.

There is no prescription to treat measles.  The virus and symptoms usually subside within two to three weeks, but even if there aren't complications, it can make you sicker than the flu or chicken pox for an extended period.

Remember, you can protect yourself, your loved ones and your neighbors from getting sick.  Get the measles vaccine.  And if you have questions, talk to your health care provider. 

Amy Compton-Phillips, M.D., is the chief clinical officer for Providence St. Joseph Health. 

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