Being proactive with measles important

Joel Lundberg, MD
Joel Lundberg

Measles outbreaks in the United State have been featured prominently in the national new of late. In fact, 228 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 12 states from January 1 to March 7, 2019. The states that have reported cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

Measles is a highly-contagious viral disease, and can be serious for young children. A highly effective and safe vaccine first became available in 1963. It is important for parents to protect their children by making sure they are up-to-date on vaccinations, including before traveling abroad.

Measles begins with a fever, soon followed by cough, runny nose and red eyes. Then a rash of tiny, red spots which starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body.

Measles can have serious and, rarely, life-threatening complications for young children. These include pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain) both of which can be fatal. Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is so highly contagious that if one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people around them will also become infected if they are not protected.

Measles is still common in other parts of the world, including many countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa. Every year, unvaccinated people contract measles while they are abroad, and bring the disease into the United States and spread it to others.

Over the past 20 years, I have had many wonderful opportunities to travel abroad on medical mission trips on which I have seen firsthand in developing countries what had become uncommon diseases in the United States like tuberculosis and malaria. These were great learning experiences as well as gratifying and rewarding. I consider myself blessed to have professional skills that afford me the ability to help others.

One of my most memorable experiences was in 1999 when I first traveled to The Gambia, West Africa, where I spent two months serving in medical missions. Within the first two days of making hospital rounds, I was introduced for a three-year-old child who was in isolation. The child, who had not received childhood vaccines, had contracted measles and was also very sick with pneumonia, a complication of the infection. Sadly, the child did not survive, succumbing to the disease. This was a year before a nationwide vaccination program was established in The Gambia, the smallest country in Africa. 

Two years later, upon my return to The Gambia, where previously approximately only a quarter of the childhood population had access to vaccinations, 90 percent of children were now vaccinated through a universal national childhood vaccine program. Measles was fast becoming distinctly uncommon thanks to government and missionary run vaccination clinics.

As a result of these and many other experiences as a health care professional in the Fond du Lac area, I remain a strong advocate for childhood and adult vaccinations. They are safe and effective, and do not cause serious complications including autism. 

In fact, one of the largest studies to date provides fresh evidence that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine does not cause autism. Danish researchers found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, even when they focused on children at greater risk for developing autism. In a study of more than 650,000 Danish children, there was no difference in the risk of autism in vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

Parents are in the best position to take proactive steps to protect their children from the measles and other preventable childhood infectious illnesses. To learn more about the MMR shot, talk to your child’s physician, call 1-800-CDC-INFO, or visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents.

Joel Lundberg, MD, Medical Oncology & Hematology

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