Measles awareness

So far there have been at least 129 measles cases from 13 states that have been reported in the U.S. in 2014, according to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a recent news article. It is the highest number for the period since 1996.

Those figures, however, do not count cases reported after April 18, when four unvaccinated Amish people traveled to the Philippines to help with typhoon aid and returned to possibly infect nine others.

Measles cases have been surging at the fastest pace in nearly 20 years, caused in part by unvaccinated travelers. It has sparked outbreaks from California to New York.

In Minot, however, Dr. Diana Peterson, pediatrician at Trinity Health, said she has never seen a case of the measles in her practice. She is also the only pediatrician at Trinity who sees unvaccinated children.

Measles is transmitted through respiratory droplets and stays on surfaces for a couple of hours. It’s an infection of the respiratory system, immune system and skin caused by a virus. It is also highly contagious. It’s contagious four days before the rash appears and four days after the rash is gone, Peterson said.

Symptoms typically develop a week to two weeks after exposure to an infected person. Initial symptoms typically include high fever, spots in the mouth that appear one to two days before the rash, runny nose, cough, watery eyes, and a spot-like rash. Provided there are no complications, measles usually lasts for seven to 10 days.

“If you’re not slimy, you don’t have measles,” Peterson said. Measles symptoms will start out with cold-like symptoms, she added. There is no treatment, either. The disease has to run its course, Peterson said. However, it’s important to seek medical advice if the person gets worse, since he or she may be developing complications. Complications can include pneumonia, ear infections, bronchitis and encephalitis.

However, measles can be prevented and in developed countries, children are typically immunized against the disease by the age of 18 months as part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. A second dose is usually given to children between ages 4 and 5. Most people born in 1985 or after should have received two doses of the MMR vaccine, Peterson said. For about 20 years prior to that, the second dose was not recommended. There is no age limit on when a person can get the MMR vaccine.

“If you get the two doses, there’s 99 percent coverage for the rest of your life,” she added. Also, if you’re traveling to high risk areas, like The Philippines, or other unvaccinated nations, it’s recommended to get the two doses of the MMR vaccine.

Peterson said she will mention vaccination to the parent when the child is two months old and will try to convince the parent to immunize the child, but does not insist. “There is no convincing people to get their kids vaccinated if they’re not going to,” she added. “It doesn’t matter what you tell them, a true non-immunizer won’t do it.”

There has been much controversy about immunizing and how it seems to lead to autism in children. Those claims of a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism were started in 1998 in an article in the British medical journal, The Lancet, written by Andrew Wakefield. He suggested that giving children the MMR vaccine in three separate doses would be safer than a single vaccination, after reporting on a study of 12 children who had developed autism soon after the administration of the vaccine. Wakefield’s suggestion was not supported by the article and further investigation failed to show any connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. He has been heavily criticized on his study and for triggering a mass decline in vaccination rates, being accused of manipulating patient data and misreporting results. Additionally, the article has since been retracted and Wakefield has lost his medical license.

Most recently and probably more known, however, has been model and actress Jenny McCarthy’s activism in the debate between immunization and autism. Her claims that vaccines cause autism are not supported by any medical evidence and she has been accused of using her celebrity status to promote her views on the issue. She has since retracted her previous opinions, saying that she is not against vaccines.

“It really gets my goat that people will listen to former porn star Jenny McCarthy,” Peterson said. “She has done so much damage. People will take her opinion over the CDC.”