Measles is on the rise. San Juan County pediatrician says vaccines are best prevention
There have been more than 880 confirmed cases of measles nationwide.
- Measles can have lasting impacts for patients.
- Pediatrician: Vaccinations are relatively safe.
- Early vaccination is available for infants visiting areas with measles outbreaks.
FARMINGTON — The Four Corners region has not seen a confirmed case of measles this year. But the disease is on the rise throughout the country. At least 25 states have confirmed cases of the virus.
As of May 17, about 880 people have been diagnosed with measles nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control said this is the largest number of measles cases they've tracked since 1994.
The closest reported measles case to Farmington has been in Sierra County, but Dr. Brad Scoggins said parents should still be aware of the disease. Scoggins is a pediatrician at San Juan Regional Medical Center.
“It is a very real disease and it’s still out there,” he said.
San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas said the region tends to have high vaccination rates, which reduces the likelihood of a measles outbreak. The office of emergency management has a plan in place in case the county begins seeing cases of measles.
Scoggins also said local residents have a good track record when it comes to vaccinating their children.
“We’re pretty good, but we’re trending toward not vaccinating,” he said. “So it is possible in the foreseeable future that we could have a case of measles here.”
When should children be vaccinated against measles?
Infants tend to inherit some immunity from their mother that protects them from measles for the first year of their life, according to Scoggins.
“In areas where everybody’s vaccinated and we don’t have the virus circulating, babies have some immunity to measles just from their mom from when they were a fetus,” Scoggins said.
Because of that immunity, doctors usually recommend vaccinating children against measles when the child is one year old and then again when the child turns four years old. Two doses of the vaccine provide 98 percent effective immunity.
Can infants be vaccinated early?
If a family lives in an area with a measles outbreak or if they plan on visiting places where measles is more common, doctors will vaccinate infants younger than a year old.
The majority of confirmed measles cases this year have been in New York. New York City has reported more than 520 confirmed cases of measles.
The CDC lists parts of New York, Michigan, California, Maryland, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Washington as having an outbreak of measles.
“If you’re going to be visiting some of these areas, as young as six months you can get (a measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine,” he said.
How dangerous are vaccines?
Scoggins said parents that are hesitant about vaccinating their children are often concerned about vaccine safety.
“They’ve heard stories of kids who got a vaccine and were otherwise normal and then became autistic or had other neurological complications attributed to the vaccine,” Scoggins said.
He said the reported connection between autism and the measles vaccine has been disproven countless times.
“There’s no evidence linking the two,” he said.
Scoggins said he routinely sees new studies about what could be causing a recent spike in autism. These studies have examined environmental air pollution, RoundUp weed killer and medicines taken by a mother while she is pregnant.
What are common vaccination side effects?
Reactions to the measles vaccine are usually mild and go away without any treatment, according to the CDC.
“The number of side effects that we see here from vaccines is very, very small and they’re usually limited to injection site reactions where there’s a little bit of swelling and redness as you might expect,” Scoggins said. “Occasionally kids will have fevers. I wouldn’t even say that’s a really common reaction.”
While the vaccines can cause mild reactions, Scoggins said the disease can have very real impacts on a patient.
“For many of the things we vaccinate against, we don’t have a good treatment,” he said. “For viral infections in general, there’s not really good treatments and I don’t know if there will be. The best protection against those is vaccination.”
How effective are the vaccines?
Scoggins has also seen posts on social media alleging naturally acquired chicken pox or measles provide better protection than the vaccine. He said that is not always true.
A single dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine provides 92 to 93 percent immunity while having two doses gives people 98 percent immunity that lasts throughout their life.
The vaccine provides the immunity without the patient going through the illness, which can cause irreversible problems.
What can happen if a person is not vaccinated?
When parents are hesitant about vaccinating their children, Scoggins said he can point to examples of children not getting vaccinated and ending up with preventable illnesses.
For example, Scoggins told about a child in Washington that spent two months in a medically-induced coma after contracting tetanus.
“You take just about the worst pain a person can be in — that’s tetanus,” Scoggins said.
He said tetanus causes uncontrollable muscle contractions that can break bones.
In terms of measles, the CDC reports 25 percent of people who contract the virus have to be hospitalized. The disease can lead to pneumonia or swelling of the brain, which can cause lifelong intellectual disabilities.
Side effects from contracting the virus can occur even a decade after the person had measles, according to the CDC. Those side effects include a rare, but fatal disease of the central nervous system known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.
What are the symptoms of measles?
“The problem is the first symptoms are the same as just about any other viral upper respiratory infection,” Scoggins said.
He said those symptoms can be cough, runny nose and inflamed eyes.
According to the CDC, the measles rash usually appears three to four days after the initial symptoms. The rash begins on the face and spreads down the body. After the rash appears, the patient’s fever could spike. The CDC states the fevers can increase to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Measles is highly contagious and 90 percent of people who have not been vaccinated or developed immunity to the disease will contract the virus if they are exposed to it, according to the CDC. The virus can be passed to another person four days before the rash first appears.
What precautions are being taken by San Juan Regional Medical Center?
San Juan Regional Medical Center has stopped providing parents with letters exempting their children from vaccinations prior to a child starting school.
In addition, Scoggins said the medical center is considering requiring all children to be fully vaccinated by the time they turn 2 years old. Unvaccinated children will not be seen at the medical center's pediatric unit — San Juan Health Partners Pediatrics — to reduce the chance of spreading disease to higher risk children like infants, patients whose immune system is suppressed and people who have recently gone through chemotherapy.
“It just seems now like these diseases are coming back,” he said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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