MEASLES! MEASLES! MEASLES! – A hot topic everywhere with the rise in cases

The topic is everywhere and everyone from President Barack Obama to Cavalier County Health District has made it clear, please vaccinate yourself or your children if possible.

Measels map

Posted on 2/7/15

By Melissa Anderson

In North Dakota current statistics estimate that one in 10 children entering kindergarten are not up-to-date on the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella).

“[It’s] very, very, very important to vaccinate. It’s one of the best things you can do for your family” Terri Gustafson the Director of Nursing at Cavalier County Health District (CCHD) stated.

Gustafson has already fielded 20 calls from concerned parents about the measles outbreak that is getting uncomfortably close to North Dakota. North Dakota is one of just 20 states that allows both religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccines. Only two states in the entire U.S. make no exemptions other than for medical reasons, Mississippi and West Virgina.

At time of print there were 102 confirmed cases in 14 states, the closest being in Mitchell, South Dakota where there are 14 confirmed cases. The majority of the cases in South Dakota were in an extended family group of unvaccinated members with an age range from 19 months to 41 years old. Minnesota has had a confirmed case as well, a 20 year old University of Minnesota student who appears to have contracted measles while traveling internationally.

Amy Schwartz, who is the Immunization Surveillance Coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health had this to say on the recent outbreak:

“Measles can be a severe, life-threatening illness. [It] is a virus that causes rash, cough, runny nose, eye irritation and fever.  It can lead to ear infection, pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death. Measles is a disease that reappears when immunization coverage rates fall, so getting yourself and your loved ones immunized is a safe and effective way to protect yourself against this disease”.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through coughing and sneezing (making it an airborne illness). Also, the measles virus can live for up to two hours on a surface or in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not vaccinated against it or already immune will also become infected.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the early symptoms of measles generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person has been infected. The virus typically begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. On average an infected person is able to spread measles from four days before the first signs or symptoms appear to four days after the appearance of the rash which typically occurs three to five days after the initial symptoms.

Once a person has the disease, there is no treatment for it other than to let the disease run its course. Ibuprofen may be offered to the infected person to help alleviate the discomfort of the disease.

The Cavalier County Memorial Hospital(CCMH) and Clinic already has a plan in place should the need arise.

“When we have someone who has suspicious symptoms like measles they should let the receptionist know right away so they can be moved to a room right away rather than expose those in the waiting room to the possible disease” Billie Symons, Infection Control Coordinator at CCMH stated.

“With any disease process it requires isolation; we get them to an isolation room as soon as possible. If it’s a reportable disease to the state, it would be reported quickly” Symon added.

The suggestion that those concerned that they might have measles should call ahead to the clinic “would be awesome” according to Symons. Symons noted that at the entrance to the hospital and clinic there are airborne isolation stations and even people with flu systems are encouraged to wear respiratory masks and use the alcohol rub before they even enter the actual clinic.

“Anything airborne put that mask on and let the receptionist know so that they can be processed and moved to a private room right away”, Symons stated in regards to patients with airborne contagious illnesses.

So how can an individual protect themselves and their loved ones from the threat of measles? It’s simple, Vaccinate.

With a success rate of 93 percent with one dose and 97 to 99 percent effectiveness with the required two doses MMR vaccine is very effective at preventing measles. Even if you are vaccinated however, there is still the chance you could contract measles if exposed. Those chances are slim, with only about three out of 100 individuals who get two doses of measles vaccine will actually contract the disease.

The CDC and experts believe the reason that vaccinated individuals sometimes contract measles could be because their immune systems didn’t respond as well as they should have to the vaccine. But the good news is fully vaccinated people who get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness, and they are also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.

Those who cannot get vaccinated depend on the concept known as “herd immunity”. The “herd immunity” concept is when a high proportion of a community is vaccinated against a disease and thus practically eliminates the threat keeping those unable to or too young to have the vaccine protected. Those that choose to not vaccinate for reasons other than medical increase the chances that a preventable disease will strike those most vulnerable.

“The main thing that parents can do is make that people around their children [who are] under the age of one and high risk individuals (those with weakened immune systems) are vaccinated with MMR” Gustafson stated.

Daycares and schools keep a record of student vaccinations and those vaccination records are kept up to date. Should a child fall behind on their vaccinations the Cavalier County Health District and the State Health Department would inform the parents.

For more information concerning the measles disease, vaccine, or to check your family’s vaccination records for accuracy please contact the Cavalier County Health District at 701-256-2402.

Other helpful resources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

And the North Dakota Department of Health