Measles Outbreak Causes Anxiety

Posted on February 2, 2015


By: Mimi Butler


Until recently, it was the Ebola epidemic that caused anxiety in the minds of U.S. residents. Recently, however, it is the growing threat of a measles outbreak. The most frustrating part about this outbreak is that the spread of the contagious, often severe disease, is entirely preventable. Ebola was never really a true concern for the U.S. medical community because of the remote likelihood that it would ever spread here, but measles, an all but eradicated disease, is now health priority number one.

As has been widely reported, the disease started in Disneyland and has spread to a least 13 other states. Most recently, the disease has traveled to Nebraska and Minnesota, with an increasing number of cases in California. The number of those infected has reached 100, with more cases sure to follow as thousands have been exposed. Measles outbreaks have come back with a vengeance because of misguided concerns about the safety of vaccinations. Before vaccines for the measles became widespread in 1963, millions of Americans were infected annually, and 400 to 500 deaths occurred annually.

A person with the measles can easily infect others by merely coughing or sneezing. The disease can be transmitted up to four days before the person who has contracted it become sick. The virus can last for a long time out of the body and you don’t have to come in contact with an infected person to contract the disease. Merely being in a room where someone with the virus has been 30 minutes ago can result in exposure.

Very large measles outbreaks seen around the world often start with just a few cases. To combat the spread of the disease, some state officials are urging those who have not been vaccinated and who might have been exposed to stay home from work, school, or day care for 21 days. Other states are considering more formal bans on unvaccinated children. Health officials consider this to be a critical time for controlling the outbreak, and as a result, are recommending quarantine for anyone who may have been exposed and are making appeals to have all children vaccinated. Even one missed case could cause a long and protracted outbreak.

While the potential risk to the general public is relatively low, people should take precautions. The most important precaution available is proper immunization. An estimated 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed to the virus will become infected. While the vaccination is only 95 percent effective, it is still the best defense to contracting the disease. Fortunately, clinics across the country are seeing a rise in visitors requesting the measles vaccination for their children.

It is clear that we are best served by vaccinating all those who can be, so the ones who can’t be, for medical reasons, are protected. There is a balance to be struck between personal freedoms and public safety. We govern what people can do with guns, drugs, alcohol, seat belts, and car seats. Should we not do the same when it comes to protecting people from deadly disease?

Posted in: Health