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There's a Massive Measles Outbreak in the US & It Could Be Growing

Photograph by Twenty20

Measles was declared as eliminated from the U.S. by public health officials in 2000, but now the vaccine-preventable illness is making a comeback in a big way. Over the past decade, different states have reported a rise in cases of the measles, thanks in part to declining vaccination numbers. Now, the worst measles outbreak in recent history is sweeping across several counties in New York, and experts have reported cases in Oregon and Washington as well.

The New York outbreak started in September, and CNN reports that at least 167 cases have been diagnosed. That number includes 112 people from Rockland and Orange counties, as well as 55 people from New York City. Dr. Howard Zucker, the New York state commissioner of health, told CNN this is the largest outbreak since the measles vaccination became standard.

"I would say this is the largest measles outbreak that New York state has had in recent history. If you go back many decades ago, when we weren't vaccinating, of course there were probably more outbreaks, but in my memory, I don't know of a measles outbreak that was this significant," he said. "We have immunized 13,000 children since this outbreak has begun."

As part of a statewide effort to prevent more outbreaks, babies are getting the measles vaccinations earlier than they had previously (six months instead of a year,) and getting the second dose within a month of the first.

Schools and daycares across Rockland county are also implementing "exclusion policies" that require children stay home until they've been vaccinated, whereas various pediatricians are taking matters into their own hands. “We have brought in every child six months and older to give them an MMR (measles, mumps and rubella vaccine),” Dr. Douglas Puder, told NBC News. “It’s up to us to keep this from spreading. This could become a truly major epidemic.”

Even with the increase of vaccinations, things could still get worse for families before it gets better. "I am pleased to hear that clinicians are working aggressively to prevent additional spread, but there is more work to be done," Dr. Natasha Burgert told CNN. "History tells us that as the number of infected individuals continues to climb, we will begin to see deaths from this disease."

The Orthodox Jewish community in New York has been hit particularly hard by the measles. The outbreak reportedly emerged after some children were infected on a visit to Israel. Dr. Jane Zucker, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Immunization at the New York City Health Department, told CNN that measles is commonly brought to the U.S. via unvaccinated travelers and that outbreaks are happening in Europe and Israel, so people who are traveling need to make sure they are vaccinated.

The Pacific Northwest is also gearing up for more possible cases of measles. Two separate cases of the measles have been reported in Washington and Oregon, according to Fox News. The Washington case was linked to a child who traveled from out of the country. The Oregon case was also linked to a person who was traveling, and Oregon health officials have warned that anyone who spent time at The Dalles or Hood River between December 26 and December 31 may have been exposed.

Luckily, they also noted that Oregon has an extremely high vaccination rate that could make a major outbreak less likely, but measles exposures are still scary because the illness is so contagious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of those exposed will also get it if they aren't immunized.

The symptoms of measles usually start to appear about 14 days after exposure.They can include a high fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes and eventually a full body rash that can even include having spots inside the mouth. In some cases, more severe complications are possible, especially in children younger than 5 and those who are older than 20. Those complications include ear infection, digestive problems and even encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. The CDC also reports that one of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children. There are one to two deaths for every 1,000 kids who get the measles, and the illness has the potential to cause lifelong damage to the central nervous system in rare cases.

For those who can be vaccinated, the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine offers the best protection. The CDC recommends that children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first at 12 to 15 months old and the second at 4 through 6 years old. The agency notes that about three out of 100 people who get two doses of MMR vaccine will get measles if exposed to the virus. Those who do get sick, however, will most likely have a milder illness and be less likely to spread the disease to other people. Having two doses of MMR vaccine has been found to be 97 percent effective against measles.

This post was originally published on mom.me sister site CafeMom.

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