Cases of the measles are on the rise nationally and a case recently was confirmed in Broward County, Florida. According to the Florida Department of Health, nearly six percent of students statewide started this year with exemptions to their required immunizations. Juan Dumois, M.D., is the clinical practice director for pediatric infectious disease at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. He answers questions about the measles and the importance of immunizations.
What’s going on with measles in the United States now?
We have a problem. In all of 2018, the United States had 372 cases of measles in unimmunized people. So far for the first three months of 2019, we have had 555 cases in 20 states. Outbreaks of three or more cases have been identified in five locations, California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Washington. Many affected had traveled to other countries such as Israel, Ukraine or the Philippines, but the measles is highly contagious so if someone brings it into your community, your child may be vulnerable.
How bad can measles be?
One out of 20 kids with measles develop pneumonia, 1 in 1,000 develop brain infection, and 1 to 2 per thousand will die. Before measles immunization, there were 3 million to 4 million cases in the United States each year, 48,000 hospitalizations, and 400 to 500 deaths.
What is the measles illness like?
Patients are miserable with fever, cough, congestion and red eyes for a few days, then they develop a rash on the face that spreads across the body. They are sick for more than a week.
How contagious are measles?
Very. When someone infected with measles coughs, the virus can remain suspended in the air for two hours. You get it by inhaling it or by touching an infected surface and then touching your mouth. 90 percent of close contacts will catch it. And it is contagious for four days before the rash appears, and that’s when it usually gets diagnosed by the typical appearance of the rash.
How can we protect ourselves from getting it?
Everyone at least 5 years old should have had at least two doses of the measles vaccine. If they haven’t, they should get caught up.
How can someone find out if the country they will be visiting has a measles outbreak?
They can go to the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On the main page they can click on Travelers’ Health, and then they can select the name of the country to which they are traveling.
Does the measles vaccine cause autism?
No. Many studies looking at this have concluded that vaccines do not cause autism. One of the largest studies found slightly lower rates of autism in immunized children. The original article from 1998 that suggested a link between measles vaccine and autism has been retracted by the journal Lancet and the lead author has been discredited for falsifying data, taking money from an attorney interested in suing vaccine manufacturers, and failing to get informed consent. He lost his medical license in England.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Newsroom each Monday for the latest report.