WINSTON/MARION COUNTIES - The national rise in cases of measles - a disease which was considered virtually eradicated in the United States in 2000 - is causing worry throughout the nation.
A press release from the Alabama Department of Public Health Thursday, May 2, noted that ADPH had received notification of a presumptively positive case of measles that morning in an infant in St. Clair County. The child had not been in a daycare setting nor had the child traveled out-of-state.
“Currently, this is the only presumptive measles case under investigation in Alabama,” the press release further stated. However, ADPH did noted in a follow-up press release May 3, that there are more than 30 open investigations of possible measles cases within the state.
The ADPH also confirmed that a Tennessee man who tested positive for the disease had passed through Alabama recently, stopping at least two places, one in Sumter County, the other in DeKalb County.
“From Jan. 1 to May 3, 2019, 764 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 23 states,” the Center for Disease Control states on its website. “This is an increase of 60 cases from the previous week. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994.”
But what are the measles? What are the symptoms? What is causing the comeback? Does the vaccination cause autism? These are just a few questions being asked. The Alabamian spoke with Dr. Andrea Batchelor, of Double Springs to get answers to some of these questions.
“(The measles is) a virus that basically causes symptoms starting with runny nose, red watery eyes and a cough. Then you progress to having white spots (known as Koplik's spots) in the back of your mouth,” Batchelor explained. “Then you have a rash that starts at your head and goes to your feet. You will run a high fever with it as well. It is a very contagious virus.”
Since it is deemed an airborne virus, it is spread through coughing, sneezing and nasal secretions, according to the CDC website.
A person is contagious four days before symptoms begin and four days afterwards, according to Batchelor.
“It can take up to a week to 10 days before developing symptoms after being exposed,” she said.
Since it is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics, Batchelor noted.
“The best way to prevent it is vaccination,” she said. If a person does contract the disease, the only treatment is the vaccine itself since there is no specific medication for it, according to Batchelor.
The vaccination is called the MMR, which stands for measles, mumps and rubella. It is usually given in two doses, the first between 12-15 months of age, and the second dose between 4-6 years of age.
One dose is 93 percent effective against the measles, while two doses are 97 percent effective, the CDC noted.
“MMR is an attenuated (weakened) live virus vaccine. This means that after injection, the viruses cause a harmless infection in the vaccinated person with very few, if any, symptoms before they are eliminated from the body. The person’s immune system fights the infection caused by these weakened viruses and immunity (the body’s protection from the virus) develops.”
“Initially, they were giving one MMR vaccine,” Batchelor said. “In the early 1990s, there was another outbreak of measles and that’s when they decided to have a second (vaccine) to give higher immunity to measles. Most people born before 1957 have already been exposed to it because of measles outbreaks.”
In fact, ADPH noted May 3, that most adults born before 1957 do not need to worry about contracting measles because most people born during this time period had the measles.
When the measles virus is discussed, it is often said it is better to have the measles when younger. Batchelor agrees with this statement.
“There are more complications if you’re less than 6 months or older than 20. There are more complications with it if you get it outside of those ranges.”
For those without medical records or immunization cards from the local health department, a blood test can be performed to check antibodies to determine if a person is immune to the disease, Batchelor noted.
“It either means you have had measles and are immune to measles or you’ve been vaccinated and developed immunity.”
“For every single case of measles, 12-18 additional cases can be expected,” the press release from the ADPH stated. “Complications can range from ear infections and pneumonia to deadly encephalitis. For every 1,000 people with measles, one to two people will die.”
Choosing not to take vaccine leads to rise in measles
Doctors are attributing the recent rise in cases of measles to people not being vaccinated.
“A concern over autism and the antivaccine, or antivax, movement are some of the reasons (the measles) have made a comeback,” Batchelor said.
“The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective,” the CDC website says.
Anti-vaccination leagues and societies are not new. For instance, the Anti-Vaccination Society of America was founded in 1879. Controversies over whether or not the government has the right to vaccinate its people are real issues on both sides. Pro-vaccination arguments tend to state examples such as if people are not vaccinated, diseases will spread. On the other hand, those opposed to vaccinations often cite legal, religious, medical and ethical reasons why not to get vaccinated.
While there are no federal laws mandating children receive vaccinations, there are different state laws, the CDC website states. The Code of Alabama explains the state health officer designates diseases a school age child must be vaccinated against before beginning school. Measles is one of them. However, the law also states the following:
“In the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat thereof, the parent or guardian of the child shall object thereto in writing on grounds that such immunization or testing conflicts with his religious tenets and practices.”
Arguing for vaccinations are organizations such as the World Health Organization, which listed the anti-vax movement one of the top ten threats in 2019, according to a Newsweek article in January.
The argument that the measles vaccine causes autism stems from a paper published by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, and his colleagues in 1998.
“(The vaccine) hasn’t been proven to cause autism,” Batchelor said.
According to an article published in Forbes April 29, “Antivaxxers spread their message daily on Facebook, Twitter, websites and other media outlets...claiming that vaccines cause a variety of harms, none of which are correct.”
In addition, there are numerous published articles about those who once belonged to the anti-vax movement and their tales of how it affected their lives.
According to a March, 2019 article in the Journal of Approved Pure and Applied Microbiology, the myths for not getting the MMR vaccination are it will give a child autism, it has mercury in it and delaying vaccination is safer for the child.
“Today, there are studies such as those published in Vaccine and Journal of the American Medical Association that have reported there are no differences between the rates of autism among thousands of vaccinated and unvaccinated children,” the article said.
For more information on measles or vaccinations, visit a local physician, go to cdc.gov or visit your local health department.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.