By Steve Sharp
JEFFERSON — Health officials say this year’s U.S. measles epidemic has surpassed 1,000 illnesses and Jefferson County officials warn that potential for contracting the disease, if not immunized, exists here now as well.
The incidence of measles is already the highest in 27 years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the count late last week, saying 1,001 illnesses have been reported since the beginning of the year. Most are from outbreaks in New York in Orthodox Jewish communities.
The nation last saw this many cases in 1992, when more than 2,200 were reported.
Once common in the U.S., measles became rare after vaccination campaigns that started in the 1960s. A decade ago, there were fewer than 100 cases a year.
Overall vaccination rates have remained fairly high, but outbreaks have been happening in communities where parents have refused recommended shots for their children.
“We have not had a case in Wisconsin yet, but taking steps now to protect yourself and your family is important,” Jefferson County Health Department Director Gail Scott told the Daily Times.
According to Scott’s description, measles is a serious respiratory disease that affects the lungs and breathing tubes and causes a rash and fever. It is very contagious. In rare cases, it can be deadly.
She said measles typically begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Two to three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out and appears as tiny, red spots that start at the head and spread downward to the rest of the body.
Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children. From 2001-2013, 28 percent of children younger than five years old who had measles had to be treated in the hospital.
For some children, measles can lead to pneumonia, lifelong brain damage, deafness and even death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get two doses of measles vaccine, the dose at 12 through 15 months of age. The second dose before entering school at 4 through 6 years of age.
Adults born during or after 1957 who haven’t had measles or have never been vaccinated should get at least one dose of measles vaccine. College students, international travelers and health care personnel should get two doses at least 28 days apart.
Call a doctor or local health department to get vaccinated.
“You can also check your local pharmacy to see if they have the vaccine,” Scott said. “The Wisconsin Vaccines for Children Program covers the cost of vaccines for eligible children who are uninsured or on BadgerCare.”
Wisconsin residents can check their immunization history by consulting their doctor or going to the Wisconsin Immunization Registry.
Scott said measles, mumps and rubella shots are safe and effective.
“Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects,” she added. “Most children who get the MMR shot have no side effects ... The side effects that do occur are usually very mild, such as a fever, rash, soreness or swelling where the shot was given, or temporary pain and stiffness in the joints — mostly in teens and adults. More serious side effects are rare. These may include a high fever that could cause a seizure.”
Scott said there is no link between the MMR shot and autism.
“Scientists in the United States and other countries have carefully studied the MMR shot. None has found a link between autism and the MMR shot,” she said.
Scott said measles is, “just a grocery store run, a trip to the movies, or a bus or plane ride away,” adding the measles virus can easily spread from person to person through the air and stays in the air for up to two hours after a sick person coughs or sneezes. Some children are too young to get the vaccine and can become seriously ill.
Among reported cases so far in 2019, 90 percent were not vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown. Fifty-five or six percent of cases were acquired outside of the U.S. as international importations and 825 or 94 percent were acquired in the U.S. Most cases or 94 percent were related to outbreaks and 75 percent were related to outbreaks in New York City and New York State.
One in four people who get measles in the United States will be hospitalized. One to two out of 1,000 children in the United States who get measles will die from the disease, even with the best care.
Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of those people, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis, or brain swelling, from measles.
Persons with further questions or concerns should contact the Jefferson County Health Department at 920-674-7275 or speak to a medical provider.
More information, including nationwide data, can also be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (www.CDC.gov).