The total of people as of Jan. 29 infected with the measles stands at 95, but officials in Arizona believe upwards of 1,000 in that state alone have been exposed to the measles.
These patients – most were not vaccinated against measles – have now established clusters of the disease where they live. The majority of cases remain in California, with the remainder reported in six other states and Mexico.
Medical experts believe it’s going to take a while to control the spread, which they feel has the potential to become one of the worst outbreaks in more than 25 years.
A recent rise in the incidence of measles can be attributed to several factors. Measles is one of the most contagious of all viruses. Other parts of the world are currently experiencing measles epidemics. And in the U.S., an anti-vaccine movement continues, with parents hesitant to immunize their children because of a widespread misbelief that vaccines cause autism.
Health officials have asked that people who have not been vaccinated for the measles obtain the vaccination, but then also avoid going into large crowds of people as the measles virus is highly contagious.
In Michigan, public health officials have already warned that our state is one of those most at-risk for communicable disease outbreaks due to high immunization waiver rates. For 2013-14, Michigan ranked No. 4 of the top 10 states with the most kindergarten student vaccination waivers.
Recent estimates indicate nearly 45 percent of Michigan residents now live in counties at-risk of disease outbreaks. In fact, several cases of measles have now been reported in the Traverse City area.
At a time of year when many Michiganders are escaping frigid temperatures for warmer, sunnier destinations, perhaps with a theme park, what can families do to avoid bringing back an unwanted ‘souvenir’?
“Make sure your kids have had their measles vaccines and are up to date with boosters before traveling,” said Daniel P. McGee, MD, a pediatric hospitalist with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “The same goes for you parents. Remember, any outbreak is just a plane ride away.”
Although usually a mild illness in children, measles can have serious complications, particularly in adults. Serious complications include ear infections, pneumonia, croup, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and blindness. Measles also can be fatal to children and adults with weakened immune systems.
According to Dr. McGee, there is widespread consensus in the scientific community that vaccines are safe and effective. The fear that vaccines are responsible for a rise in autism has been thoroughly discredited.
“Developed more than 50 years ago, the measles shot is one of our oldest and safest vaccines,” he said. “Two doses are 99 percent effective at preventing the disease. Our task now is to remain diligent in its use.”