Commentary: Get the measles vaccination right away

The country is currently seeing the largest outbreak of measles since the disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. As of June 20, the CDC has documented 1,077 cases of measles in 28 states.

Delaware has not had any cases of measles reported although our neighboring border states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have as of the end of May.

Measles is a viral infection that is highly contagious. It is spread when a measles-susceptible person comes into contact with infectious droplets from a measles-infected person. These droplets are spread when the infected person coughs, sneezes, or breathes. Measles can last in the air for up to two hours after the infected person leaves that area.

William Chasanov, DO, MBA

The signs and symptoms of measles can include cough, pink eyes, runny nose, and high fevers. During the fever, a rash generally starts on the head and/or neck and continues to progress down to the chest and back and then to the arms and legs.

Sadly, measles can be more than just a high fever and a rash. Measles can lead to significant disability and even death by causing breathing issues and brain damage. In most cases, the only treatment for measles is supportive care. The good news is that our measles vaccinations are 97% effective in preventing measles if exposed.

Some of us are fortunate enough to have never been exposed to measles. The United States started a campaign in 1963 to vaccinate against measles which eventually led to the United States having an eradication status in the year 2000.

The measles vaccines have changed since their introduction in the early 1960s and currently the two measles vaccines in the United States include a MMRV (Measles-Mumps-Rubella-Varicella) vaccine or a MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine. In the United States, there is not a measles-only vaccine. The measles portion of the vaccines does contain a live attenuated virus.

Some factors that put us at risk for contracting measles include being unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, traveling to areas where measles is endemic or an outbreak is occurring, and working in the healthcare field.

If you are not sure if you are immune against the measles virus, please reach out to your healthcare provider. He or she can assess your situation and make further recommendations if you are eligible for vaccination. Those born in the United States before 1957 are presumed to have a natural immunity against measles and likely do not require any additional investigation. Those who were born in 1957 and later may have been offered vaccines as the measles vaccination campaign in the United States started around 1963.

Lastly, if you think you have been exposed to measles and are exhibiting signs and symptoms of the virus, please reach out to your healthcare provider. Let them know of your concern so risk factors for measles can be assessed. As measles is highly contagious, please inform your healthcare team immediately if you have concern or risk factors for measles so appropriate steps can be taken to get you better and to protect those around you.

William Chasanov, DO, MBA, is an infectious disease physician and medical director of Beebe Employee Health at Beebe Healthcare.

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