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By Karen O’Hara
Measles was declared “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000. Now, just 15 years later, we are experiencing an outbreak of this preventable, highly contagious viral disease.
From Jan. 1-23, 68 people from 11 states were reported to have measles, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue an official health advisory via its Health Alert Network.
The CDC and state health departments are investigating the multi-state outbreak in connection with December visits to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, Calif., the same city where WorkCare’s corporate office is located. (We can see the iconic Matterhorn from our sixth-floor office.)
With measles at our doorstep, we are reminded once again of our responsibility as stewards of health and safety in the workplace and communities in the U.S. and abroad.
According to the CDC, most people who get measles in the U.S. are not vaccinated, and many cases originate outside U.S. borders. In 2014, for example, about half of the record 644 cases in 27 states reported to the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases were linked to travelers who were exposed during an outbreak in the Philippines.
Before the measles vaccination program was introduced in 1963, 3 to 4 million people got measles annually in the U.S, with 400 to 500 lives claimed each year. About three out of 10 people who get measles develop one or more complications that may include pneumonia, ear infection, diarrhea, seizures or encephalitis.
The current outbreak underscores transmission risk, the need for widespread vaccination to create “herd immunity” and the importance of a prompt public health response. Similar to other contagious diseases, measles is primarily spread through coughing and sneezing, so along with getting vaccinated, it’s important to practice good hygiene (e.g., frequent hand-washing with soap and water, covering one’s nose and mouth, disposing of tissues, disinfecting surfaces).
It’s interesting to note that many younger physicians have never seen a case of measles and initially may not consider it. Before the rash appears, early signs and symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes. Recent travel is a possible indicator. And while the vaccine is considered highly effective, vaccination does not necessarily rule out a measles diagnosis. The vaccine’s effectiveness can diminish over time, or a patient may not have received the recommended number of doses.
Health care providers are advised to isolate suspected measles patients, immediately report cases to public health officials and obtain specimens for testing, including viral specimens for confirmation and genotyping.
The CDC advises health care providers to ensure all patients are up to date on their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. For those traveling abroad, the CDC recommends all U.S. residents older than 6 months receive MMR vaccine prior to departure. Infants 6 through 11 months old should receive one dose before departure and children 12 months of age or older should have two doses with administration separated by at least 28 days. Teenagers and adults without evidence of measles immunity should have documentation of two appropriately spaced doses of MMR vaccine.
Refer to WorkCare’s MMR Fact Sheet to learn more about preventing the spread of measles in the workplace and protecting public health.
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