By Glenn Ellis
Multiple news outlets are reporting this week that there’s currently a measles outbreak of 107 people in 21 states. There’s just one problem: that’s not from one big outbreak. Even in 2018 when we have a highly effective vaccine, that’s a perfectly normal number of measles cases.
According to the CDC’s up-to-date tally of the number of measles cases per year, 107 people across 21 states have come down with the measles. It might surprise you to hear that that’s not all that concerning to the CDC. Last year, 118 people across 15 states contracted the measures. In 2016, just 86 were infected.
Of course, these small outbreaks likely wouldn’t have happened if everyone were vaccinated. Outbreaks happen on devastating scales when communities lack herd immunity. Even though a vaccine doesn’t provide 100 percent protection, if enough people are sufficiently immune, the virus dies before it has the chance to spread rapidly through a population.
This is especially true for highly contagious viruses like the measles. In the case of the measles, a single person infects 90 percent of the people around them. To ensure herd immunity, the World Health Organization and other health bodies around the globe recommend that 95 percent of people be vaccinated.
Many people believe that the increased number of vaccines — children now get twice as many as they did in 1980 and can receive up to 20 injections by their first birthday — are to blame for the rise in kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The idea first made headlines in 1998, when Andrew Wakefield, M.D., a British gastroenterologist, published a study of 12 children in The Lancet that linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) combination vaccine with intestinal problems that he “believed” led to autism. The following year, there was a warning about thimerosal, the mercury-containing preservative that was found in most vaccines. Though it didn’t mention autism specifically, it suggested that the use of vaccines with thimerosal could theoretically push an infant’s total exposure of mercury, a neurotoxin, above safe limits, and it recommended that the preservative be removed from shots.
However, at least seven large studies in major medical journals have now found no association between the MMR vaccine and ASD — and this February, The Lancet officially retracted Dr. Wakefield’s original paper.
In addition, numerous research analyses have also found that autism rates have continued to rise even after thimerosal was removed from all vaccines except some flu shots.
Make no mistake, Measles is a viral infection of the respiratory system. Measles is a very contagious disease that can spread through contact with infected mucus and saliva. An infected person can release the infection into the air when they cough or sneeze. The measles virus can live on surfaces for several hours. As the infected particles enter the air and settle on surfaces, anyone within close proximity can become infected. Drinking from an infected person’s glass, or sharing eating utensils with an infected person, increases your risk of infection.
The measles virus lives in the mucus of your nose and throat. It’s spread through the air and by coming into direct contact with someone who has it. The virus can stay active on surfaces and in the air for up to 2 hours. It’s very contagious. If you haven’t been vaccinated and are in a room with someone who has measles, you have a 90% chance of getting it.
Part of what makes measles so dangerous is that you can be contagious 4 days before you get the telltale rash. So you could easily spread the virus without knowing you have it. You’ll continue to be contagious 4 days after the rash goes away.
The MMR vaccine is 97 percent effective after two doses. Doctors recommend that children get the first dose when they’re between 12 and 15 months old, and the second between 4 and 6 years old.
The vaccine is safe for most people. Pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems (from diseases like leukemia and tuberculosis), and those with certain allergies can’t get the vaccine. As a result, the odds are higher that they’ll get the virus.
If you do get the measles virus, medicine won’t cure it (drugs don’t kill viruses). The best way to speed up the recovery process and prevent complications is to drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest.
In the U.S., about 1 in 4 people who get measles end up in the hospital. Children under 5 years old and adults over 20 tend to have the worst problems.
Contact a doctor immediately if you suspect you have measles. If you have not received a measles vaccine and you come into contact with an infected person, visit your doctor to receive a measles vaccine within 72 hours of contact to prevent infection.
Regardless of where you stand in the Vaccine controversy, Immunizations are by far the best way to prevent the spread of measles.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. He is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics. For more good health information listen to Glenn, on radio in Philadelphia; Boston; Shreveport; Los Angeles; and Birmingham., or visit: www.glennellis.com