PEORIA — The measles outbreak hasn’t come to Peoria... yet.
Two cases have been reported in Champaign-Urbana in recent months — the first in January and the second in early February. Both cases were in unvaccinated college students. Across the country there are currently 101 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Washington state, home to a group of anti-vaccine activists, is having the most trouble. There are now so many cases the governor has declared a state of emergency.
“The thing about measles is that it’s highly contagious,” said Dana DeShon, a nurse practicioner at OSF Healthcare Morton Health Center. “You are contagious before you know you have measles. First you have flu-like symptoms, and then you get the rash.”
According to the CDC, measles is communicable a full four days before the characteristic rash appears. It’s spread by respiratory droplets which can remain in the environment and infect others for two hours after the host has left.
In her 20 years of practice, DeShon has never seen a case of measles, and she’s hoping that continues. But she does see parents who have chosen to skip the routine MMR vaccine — measles, mumps and rubella — which most people get as children. The trend started after a study was published in a medical journal in the 1990s linking MMR to autism.
“That study has since been proven — over and over again — to be incorrect. Not one researcher has been able to replicate those findings. It was retracted from the magazine and all the researchers who participated in the study said it was wrong. But the damage has been done,” said DeShon.
The World Health Organization placed the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate as one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019.
Because of the anti-vaccine trend, diseases most people have never seen are popping up again. And while measles is typically not a deadly disease, each year thousands of people worldwide die from it.
“Kids who have low immunity for whatever reason are more at risk,” said DeShon. The disease is particularly concerning in pregnant women, with possible dire consequences for the unborn child.
Because there are children who can’t get the immunization — children with certain health problems and those under one-year of age — parents who chose not to immunize their healthy children are putting others at risk, said DeShon.
Adults are not immune from getting measles, either, but most people born after 1960 have been immunized, and those born before 1957 have developed immunity to the disease when it circulated unabated through the population. If you are unsure of your immunity, talk to your doctor.
“You can always go in and get the test done to see if you are immune,” said DeShon. “If you had measles, you are immune, and if you had the two MMR vaccines, you are immune. If we start seeing a lot of cases, we might do a booster, but so far the cases we have seen are in people who have not been vaccinated.”
People who are experiencing symptoms should quarantine themselves. Stay out of public and call your doctor to tell them what’s going on before going to an appointment, said DeShon.
The good news about seeing actual cases of measles is that it might prompt some parents to vaccinate their children. Part of the reason people think it’s OK not to vaccinate is because they’ve never seen the disease, which can be pretty miserable even if the patient makes a full recovery.
The thing about vaccinations is that they can actually eradicate a disease. After a certain period of time, if no cases have been seen worldwide, the disease is determined to be gone. At that point, vaccinations are no longer needed. It happened with smallpox, and it’s close to happening with polio, said DeShon.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to do any vaccines?” she said.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.