Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Get Ready Mailbag: What do I need to know about the measles outbreak?

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Check out these questions about the recent measles outbreak, which is linked to Disney theme parks in California.

I was planning to take my children to Disneyland this summer, but these measles cases have me worried. I don't want to endanger my kids. Should we stay home instead?
The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging parents to vaccinate their children to protect them against measles. However, if your children are too young to get vaccinated against the disease — the first round of vaccinations is recommended at 12 to 15 months of age — public health experts are recommending that you keep them away from people who are not vaccinated as well as places where there are large crowds, such as malls, theme parks and airports.

This has been on the news all the time where I live. Why is there so much talk about this measles outbreak?
Because it’s serious. Measles is not a disease to be taken lightly. Infected people can have severe complications, like pneumonia and encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain. And some people even die from the measles. According to the World Health Organization, as recently as 1980, measles caused 2.6 million deaths each year. Measles is especially dangerous for infants or anyone with pre-existing health problems.

The good news is that the death rate from measles dropped by 75 percent from 2000 to 2013 as a result of worldwide vaccination programs. So we know that vaccinations work.

This outbreak also shows what happens when people are not protected. CDC is reporting that there are 102 cases of measles in 14 states as of January 30, 2015 most of which are related to the Disneyland outbreak.  The Disneyland outbreak has contributed to a record high number of U.S. measles cases since 2000, when the disease was eliminated from this country.

I know parents who don’t vaccinate their children, should I be concerned for my family to be around them?
Not vaccinating children against measles is a bad idea. Some places have high rates of people who aren’t vaccinated. This makes diseases spread faster and further, and puts unprotected children who live in those communities at greater risk. The best protection for your kids is to make sure they are vaccinated.

I’ve heard that some people who are vaccinated come down with measles anyway. So why should I bother?
True, there are reports of measles cases among people who may already been vaccinated. However, here are some points to remember:
  • Most people who have been vaccinated for measles and still become infected were vaccinated a long time ago — 30 years or more, so their protection may be lower. During an active outbreak, people who were vaccinated long ago should consider getting a booster dose.
  • No vaccination is a 100 percent sure thing. However, it is better to be protected.
  • By getting your vaccination, you are helping to protect those around you —especially those who cannot be vaccinated for some reason — and reduce the measles virus from circulating.
How can I tell if someone is spreading the measles?
Unfortunately, people with measles are contagious before they start to show symptoms. So the best way to protect your health and your children is to stay up–to-date on vaccination schedules. And don’t forget to check out APHA’s Get Ready fact sheets for more information about vaccines.

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