Due to the high vaccination rates in the US, diseases such as measles are not seen often any longer. People then can become complacent about the necessity of vaccines and whether they are actually that important. Though measles is not common in the US, due to the ease of international travel to and from areas where measles is still endemic, children and adults are still at risk.
What is the Measles virus?
Measles is a single-stranded RNA virus from the family Paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus. It is closely related to the canine distemper virus. The measles virus only affects humans and has a survival time of less than 2 hours in the air and on surfaces. It resides in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat of infected persons. It is highly contagious.
What kind of illness does Measles cause?
According to Mayoclinic.com, measles has the following symptoms: fever, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth on the cheek and a skin rash made up of large, flat blotches that may flow into one another. The face and head break out first-particularly behind the ears and along the hairline. According to the CDC, complications from measles can be pneumonia, encephalitis or even death. Those most at risk are children under 5 and adults greater than 20 years of age. Those who are unvaccinated and travel to or live in endemic areas of Europe and South-East Asia are also at the highest risk.
During the first 5 months of 2011, 118 cases of measles were reported. This number is the highest number in that time period since 1996. The largest outbreak was among 21 persons in a Minnesota population who were unvaccinated due to concerns with the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine. In 2/3 of the outbreaks, the outbreak started with someone who was exposed to measles abroad. Eighty-nine per cent of the cases were in unvaccinated individuals.
Preventing Measles through Vaccine
There are two vaccines available for prevention of measles: MMR or MMRV. MMR stands for Measles/Mumps/Rubella. The MMRV vaccine also includes a vaccine against the Varicella virus that causes chicken pox. The CDC recommends the first dose of MMR vaccine at 12-15 months of age and the second dose at age 4 to 6 before the child enters school. The MMRV vaccine is licensed for children 12 months through 12 years old. Not only children are at risk. Adults born during or after 1957 in the US who have not had measles are at risk. Not all those vaccinated have proven immunity. Vaccines against measles are approximately 98% effective when taken as directed. Immunity can be demonstrated by a blood test that titers the virus.
Objections to the Vaccine
Objections to the vaccine usually revolve around spiritual/religious objections or concerns regarding safety of the vaccine. Most vaccine adverse reactions are mild and temporary such as a sore arm or low fever. More serious adverse events occur from vaccines in general on the order of one per thousands or one per millions of doses.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at cdc.gov; Mayo Clinic at mayoclinic.com