WASHINGTON – A measles outbreak linked to Disney themeparks in California is stirring up new concerns about an old childhood disease thought to be eradicated in the United States.
Despite the effectiveness of the measles vaccine, outbreaks of the measles continue to pop up in the United States, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
He says that some Americans choose not to be vaccinated or that parents opt to not vaccinate their children – all of whom are susceptible to the illness if they are exposed. And the virus is often transmitted to these unprotected individuals by foreign visitors.
At least nineteen people from three states have fallen ill with the measles after visiting Disneyland or Disney California Adventure in December. Only two of those patients were fully vaccinated, some were partially vaccinated and two were too young to be vaccinated. More people could have been exposed when those patients visited hospitals and a lab. And an urgent care clinic in San Diego closed after several measles patients came to the clinic this week.
Fauci says that the outbreak on the West Coast could travel here if someone exposed to the virus, but hasn’t become ill yet, gets on a plane and passes the virus to those who haven’t been protected.
Although no vaccine is 100 percent effective, the measles vaccine is as close to providing full protection as any vaccine available today. And older adults who suffered through a case of the measles as children should be immune for life, Fauci says.
The challenge with measles outbreaks is that the virus is “extraordinarily contagious,” Fauci tells WTOP.
It’s a respiratory-born virus and is transmitted by sneezing or coughing. The virus can remain in the air or on surfaces for several hours, he says.
“The transmissibility rate is very high.”
Developing countries in particular struggle to combat the spread of the virus, which Fauci says is frustrating because vaccination could prevent that suffering.
In the early 1960s, before universal vaccination against the measles, the United States had a few million cases of the illness per year, about 500 deaths and thousands of people were hospitalized for the measles, he says.
In contrast, just 644 cases of the measles were reported in 2014 – a figure that is triple the number of cases reported in 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Everyone should get vaccinated against the measles,” Fauci says.
Fauci says the initial vaccine is followed up with a booster shot several years later.
The first dose is typically given at between 12 and 15 months of age and the second dose is given between ages 4 and 6 years.
According to the CDC, Symptoms appear seven to 14 days after a person becomes infects. Symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose and red or watery eyes. A red rash typically first appears on the face and then moves downward.