Why are public health people excited about a handful of measles cases?
Right now there’s an outbreak in Arizona. As of the moment I’m writing these words, outbreak in this instance means 11 cases. Doesn’t sound like a big deal.
But, there are reasons for concern.
To put some perspective on this, prior to 1980, before most kids were getting immunized against measles, infection caused 2.6 million deaths each year.
Measles is wildly contagious. Let’s say I’m infected with measles—I pop into the local Walmart’s restroom, do my thing, wash my hands, and cough before I go out the door. Everyone who enters that restroom for the next two hours will be exposed to the virus, which is hanging in the air and also waiting on the countertops, taps, and doorknob.
Just walk into the restroom and you’re exposed. It’s that easy to pick up.
Protection comes through immunization, although there are some who have been immunized who will still become infected. No vaccine protects 100% of the people 100% of the time.
Keeping your hands clean and away from your eyes, nose, and mouth also helps to prevent infection.
When you have measles, you will almost surely get a rash. What most of us don’t realize is measles can bring so much more than a few red spots:
- Ear infections
- Swelling of the brain, which may lead to deafness or intellectual disability
- SSPE – a fatal disease which lurks in the body for years after the initial measles infection disappears
When you can become infected by simply breathing the air an infected person passed through two hours ago, it’s reason enough to get excited.
Make sure your family is protected through immunization, and check with your healthcare provider if you’re not clear about your family’s immunization history.
Preventing measles is worth a minute of our time.
by Trish Parnell