There is a measles outbreak in five states. And while it is too soon to add a sixth state — Florida — the Sunshine State once again is in play.
On Thursday, the Florida Department of Health reported there is a measles case in Broward County.
“We don’t know anything yet but that they are in Broward County, so it is down here,” said Dr. Bindu Mayi, a professor of microbiology at Nova Southeastern University’s College of Medical Sciences in Broward.
Mayi, who also writes a blog on infectious diseases like measles, said an immediate goal is to trace back whoever came in contact with the individual. Then health officials “have to see what they need to do to protect additional people who have been exposed.”
This could mean some nerve-wracking days ahead. It can take 21 days before symptoms become apparent, Mayi said.
Dr. Paula Thaqi, director of the Florida Department of Health in Broward, told WPLG Local 10 the measles case was acquired outside of the United States.
Outbreaks in several states
The Broward case has gotten attention because of measles outbreaks in New York, Washington, Texas, Illinois and California.
In addition to those states and now the case in Florida, there have been 314 individual cases of measles confirmed in 15 states from Jan. 1 to March 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These states include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Oregon.
This, for a potentially fatal illness that, less than 40 years after a vaccine was licensed for use, was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, according to the CDC.
“This was thanks to a highly effective vaccination program in the United States, as well as better measles control in the Americas region,” the CDC said on its website.
That was the good news. Then, for several reasons, measles staged a comeback.
Why a measles resurgence?
The reasons are many.
Blame complacency — “I don’t see it anymore so I don’t think my child needs to get it if we don’t see it,” Mayi says of the mind-set of some people toward the measles vaccination.
Blame some religious practices that shun vaccinations. The current measles outbreak in New York’s suburban Rockland County has stoked tension between the secular community and the region’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, The New York Times reported.
“Call it philosophical or religious reasons, but when it comes to health, people are playing around with things that are easily prevented” — like measles, Mayi said.
And people need to understand that vaccinations don’t lead to autism or other ailments. That belief has led some parents and guardians to keep their children from getting vaccinated.
“If you look at the CDC, our go-to authority, they categorically state that vaccines do not cause autism or MS or anything else,” Mayi said. “I grew up in India. I saw firsthand the ravages of polio. Polio is a preventable disease. We wouldn’t have eradicated small pox if we didn’t have a vaccine. That’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
The avoidance of the measles vaccine is partly owing to a lack of awareness of how bad measles can be, Mayi said.
“Measles can kill one or two people out of every 1,000 people. In developing counties, it can kill one out of four people. That’s a huge number for a vaccine-preventable illness. That is really sad.”
Growth in cases
Measles outbreaks flourished in 2008 and have grown steadily since, the CDC reports.
▪ The increase in cases in 2008 was the result of a spread in communities with groups of people who were not vaccinated. That year, 131 measles cases were reported to the CDC, compared with an average of 63 cases per year between 2000 and 2007.
▪ In 2014, the U.S. experienced 23 measles outbreaks, including 383 cases that occurred primarily among unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. Many of the cases in the U.S. that year were associated with cases brought in from the Philippines, which had experienced a measles outbreak.
▪ In 2016, Latin America was widely declared free of measles because of an aggressive vaccination campaign. But in 2018, a virulent outbreak in Venezuela, combined with a mass exodus from the South American country, detonated the positive news of just two years prior.
Florida and measles
Florida wasn’t immune to measles’ resurgence.
▪ In June 2016, an unvaccinated child in Miami-Dade contracted measles.
▪ In 2018, 15 Florida residents and four visitors with measles spent time in the state while infectious, the Florida Department of Health said.
▪ Four unvaccinated children in one Sarasota community in December 2018 came down with measles, the Florida Department of Health said.
Mayi, the NSU professor, hopes education can halt the measles trend.
“One thing I love telling my students is when we vaccinate there are two important reasons — especially when you have an effective vaccine like measles. One is selfish. ‘I want to protect myself.’ And the selfless one is, ‘I want to protect those vulnerable individuals who can’t get vaccinated,’ ” she said.
“There is always a pool of vulnerable individuals like newborns or immune-compromised individuals,’’ she said, such as cancer and HIV patients.
There are other things you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones and help prevent the spread, Mayi suggests.
▪ Cover coughs and sneezes so as to trap any potentially infectious droplets from affecting those around you.
▪ Keep your hands clean and avoid touching your face with dirty hands. This healthy practice can also help you avoid other maladies like colds and the flu.
Measles symptoms typically include:
▪ A high fever that can spike to 104 degrees.
▪ Runny nose.
▪ Red, watery eyes.
▪ A rash breaks out in three to five days after the symptoms begin.
In addition, measles can be suspected when spots, called Koplik’s spots, appear after a couple of days and look like little grains of salt surrounded by a red zone, Mayi wrote on her blog at www.drmayi.com. These can appear on the inside of cheeks, across from the molars. The measles rash can appear within 24 hours of the Koplik’s spots.
Measles needs to be taken seriously because in addition to its potential fatal consequences, measles can lead to compromised immune systems later.
There are no specific treatments for an established measles infection, the Mayo Health Clinic says. Experts suggest reducing the fever, hydrating, resting and boosting vitamin A if your levels are low. Vitamin A has been found to help lessen measles severity.
Seek medical attention, especially if giving aspirin to children.
The measles rash lasts about five to six days.
Best yet, don’t get it since the vaccine is effective.
“Diligence on your part,” Mayi says, “that is important.”