Measles – What’s The Big Deal?

2 06 2016

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:

  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Diarrhea
  • 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
  • Death

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

Virus Slams Unvaccinated

7 07 2011

A deadly disease is marching its way across the United States and Canada. It’s a disease that infects about 20 million people every year and kills about 200,000. The United States once was a hotbed of infection, seeing almost 900,000 cases of this disease in 1941. But by the 1990s, that number had dropped to fewer than 150 cases annually. Why? Vaccinations.

The disease is measles. It sounds . . . childish, doesn’t it? And people often refer to it as a “childhood disease.” But make no mistake. It’s a virus, one that doesn’t care whom it infects or what tissues it targets, whether brain or lungs. A virus that has a 90% infection rate. A virus that kills children who seem perfectly healthy one day and are dead from lung complications or encephalitis the next. Roald Dahl’s daughter died of measles. Mark Twain almost did. Even though the descriptive “childhood” often accompanies it, there’s nothing remotely childish or casual about this virus. Hospitalization rates are high, and death is not uncommon. In 2005, for example, a total of 311,000 children worldwide died from measles.

And a couple of shots in the arm (or leg) can prevent all of it.

You might think that the outbreak in 2008 would’ve spurred some parents to ensure vaccinations for their children. After all, that year saw more measles cases in the United States than had happened in any year since 1997. Of the people infected, 90% had not been vaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, this year is well on its way to besting that record and then some.

Some notable facts about this year’s outbreak through May 20, 2011:

  • From 2001 to 2008, a median of 56 measles cases were reported annually to the CDC.
  • During the first 19 weeks of 2011, 118 were reported.
  • 89% of this year’s cases have been linked to import from other countries.
  • About 89% of those who have contracted measles so far have been unvaccinated.
  • 40% of those who have contracted measles in this outbreak have been hospitalized.
  • All but one of the hospitalized patients were unvaccinated (the one vaccinated patient was hospitalized for observation only).
  • Rates of hospitalization have been 52% for children under 5 years and 33% for children over age 5 and for adults.
  • Transmission has occurred in households, childcare centers, shelters, schools, emergency departments, and at a large community event.
  • One outbreak alone in Minnesota has encompassed 21 people so far, including seven infants too young to have been vaccinated.

This virus doesn’t care who you are, how old you are, how healthy you are, whether or not you were breastfed or organically fed or loved beyond all measure. It’s a virus. It kills, with pain and distress. And, it bears repeating, a couple of shots in the arm can stop it.

By Emily Willingham

Image courtesy Wellcome Library, London


3 03 2011

(Guest post by Paula and Oscar Abalahin, Jaxon’s parents)

This is our beautiful son, Jaxon.  We adopted this sweet, smart, kind, and very active boy in 2001 when he was a toddler. For several years, we lived a normal, happy life.

Then one day, in February 2006, after a great day in kindergarten, Jax had some difficulty talking and his head was nodding, quickly dropping forward every three to five seconds.  His pediatrician thought Jax was having seizures, and we were referred to a pediatric neurologist. 

The next four months were spent in and out of hospitals, numerous tests were done, and many drugs were tried as his condition worsened to the point that the seizures prevented him from walking and he was no longer able to speak or even hold his head up. 

The doctors didn’t know what was causing these seizures and the best diagnosis they had was Idiopathic (no known cause) Epilepsy with intractable seizures.

We weren’t satisfied with that diagnosis, and searched the Internet trying to match his symptoms with a disease or disorder, but found nothing different than what our doctors had already found. 

We looked back at Jaxon’s medical history to see if anything he’d had could cause seizures.  Jaxon contracted measles at seven months of age, and we found that there was a rare condition closely matching his symptoms that was caused by the measles virus.

After the doctors reviewed his medical history from the Philippines, they diagnosed Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE), a chronic persistent infection of the central nervous system caused by the measles virus, specifically an altered form of the measles virus.  

SSPE is almost always fatal within one to three years of onset, and has only a five percent chance of remission, and that slight chance depended on an early diagnosis and very specific treatment.

Because SSPE is rare, our neurologist needed a consult and found someone in Southern California who had treated a number of SSPE patients in the 1990s.

Over the next two years, our lives were consumed with hospital visits and exams and treatments.  Every day was a struggle, but he never gave up.  Jax always had a sparkle in his eyes, an incredible smile, and an infectious laugh that made you believe all was good.  But, in the end, he was hit hard with infections.  Despite his drive, his beautiful smile was slowly disappearing.  His body was worn down, although he never stopped fighting.

Jaxon would never want anyone else to suffer.  His fight to beat SSPE is our driving force.  We will continue raising awareness and looking for the cure, the cure we wanted for Jax. 

We are so proud of our son, our Super Hero, our Cracker Jax.