In the first 52 days of the year, more than 150 individual cases of the measles have popped up across the nation in 10 states, including one case in Kentucky.
The Kentucky case was confirmed by the Barren River District Health Department, which serves eight counties from its headquaters in Bowling Green.
Other states that have reported cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.
According to the CDC, the outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel and Ukraine, where large measles outbreaks are occurring, and further spread in U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.
Dr. Doug Ansert Jr., MD, FAAP, of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics in Radcliff, said measles are highly contagious. He noted 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to the virus will contract the disease.
“The virus spreads via airborne transmission and can live in airspace for up to two hours prior to infecting its host. Imagine getting on an elevator or airplane after someone has been sneezing or coughing with this illness?” he said.
Ansert said initial measles’ symptoms are similar to the common cold with fever, coughing, runny nose and watery eyes. Measles have a characteristic rash, but it does not develop until 3 to 5 days into the illness, he added. The rash starts at the head with flat red spots and spreads downward throughout the whole body.
“This is usually when people seek medical attention, but unbeknownst to them and their contacts, they have already been spreading the virus for a few days,” he said, noting children younger than 5 and adults older than 20 are at highest risk of complications.
Ansert said the measles vaccine is highly effective at preventing the illness.
“After its introduction, we have seen a 99 percent reduction in the number of measles cases worldwide,” Ansert said. “... The vaccine can be given as early as 6 months if there is an outbreak and risk of exposure. Most of the outbreaks we have seen over the years have started in areas where there are high numbers of unvaccinated children.”
The role vaccines play in protecting communities oftentimes is overlooked, said Terrie Burgan of the Lincoln Trail District Health Department in Elizabethtown. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the vaccination of children born between 1994 and 2016 will prevent 381 million illnesses and help avoid 855,000 deaths.
“Vaccinations are not just for protecting ourselves and are not just for today. They also protect the people around us by keeping diseases that we have almost defeated from making a comeback,” she said.
According to the CDC, one out of four people who contract measles will need to be hospitalized. Five percent will contract pneumonia. One out of 1,000 will get encephalitis — an inflammation of the brain that can cause permanent disability and death — and 11 out of 100,000 cases will develop subacute sclerosing panencephalitix approximately seven to 10 years after the initial illness.
“What individuals should know is that measles is preventable,” Burgan said.