Public health officials are encouraging health care providers to brush up on measles.
So far this year, there are been 129 cases of measles – the most in the first four months of the year since 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The biggest outbreaks have been in New York City, California and Washington. Most of the cases involve people who were exposed to the measles overseas or people who were had contact with people exposed overseas.
No deaths have been reported in the United States.
Eighty-four percent were in people who had not been vaccinated or were unsure if they had been vaccinated, which was no surprise to Tupelo infectious disease specialist Dr. Malinda Prewitt.
“The outbreaks we hear about are most often in unvaccinated populations,” Prewitt said. “In (that) setting, measles is very contagious.”
But because of widespread vaccination, most health care professionals have never seen measles outside textbooks. A commentary released today in the Annuals of Internal Medicine urged physicians and health systems to ask more questions about immunization history and overseas travel when people come in with fever and a rash. If measles is suspected, they need a plan to isolate the patient quickly to protect others and notify public health officials.
Mississippi has seen no measles cases for several years and is fortunate to have one of the highest rates of childhood immunization in the country.
“It protects the few kids who can’t have them,” said Ivancic, who remembers the last significant measles outbreak in Tupelo some 20 years ago.
Measles is more than a rash and a fever, Ivancic said.
“There’s no treatment after you get it,” because it doesn’t respond to antibiotics or antivirals, said Ivancic, who as a young doctor cared for children critically ill from complications of measles. “You have to prevent it. It is a very serious disease.”
For people who have been vaccinated, the risk of catching measles is very low, Prewitt said. But the outbreaks reinforce the importance of vaccines in combating all kinds of contagious diseases.
“I have personally never seen a case of the measles in my lifetime, but I have seen more than my share of influenza deaths this year,” Prewitt said.