CLEVELAND — With a measles outbreak in New York State and in other parts of the world that has since spread to a number of other U.S. states, there are concerns about that outbreak reaching Ohio, especially with Passover and Easter coming up.
So far, the Ohio Department of Health said it has not had any cases of measles in the state. Still, local doctors have urged people to be cautious and proactive when it comes to this infectious and contagious virus.
“It used to be one of those diseases you got if you were a child,” said Dr. Lolita McDavid, medical director of child advocacy and protection at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “Measles, mumps, chicken pox. All of them have terrible ramifications and people don’t remember that.”
Measles, McDavid said, is especially contagious, and children are the most susceptible.
“It’s spread by droplets, so people cough and sneeze and touch things and it’s very easy, it’s very easy to get the measles virus.”
In fact, a fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control notes that “if one person has it, 9 out of 10 people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected.”
McDavid said people with measles can infect others up to four days before they even know they have measles or show any symptoms, and up to four days after they break out in rashes.
In many cases, the disease begins with a fever and runny nose. But it can result in brain swelling, deafness or even death.
“This year’s outbreaks seem to be much stronger than any of the others, in large part because people are so mobile,” Dr. Shelly Senders, a pediatrician, said.
While the outbreak hasn’t reached Ohio, it has been centered in Orthodox Jewish communities in other states, Senders said. As an Orthodox Jew himself, Senders noted that immunization rates in Orthodox communities are about the same as in the general population. However, the outbreak can be fueled by repeated close contact among Orthodox Jews, from frequent attendance at synagogue to eating meals together.
Senders said that with Passover and Easter coming up, there is a risk of measles coming to Ohio as people travel to and from areas where outbreaks have taken place.
The CDC declared measles eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but sporadic outbreaks have occurred since then. This one, Senders said, is on track to exceed the largest outbreak since 2000, with the potential for 3,000 to 4,000 cases to be diagnosed this year if current trends continue.
Senders emphasized that there is no order for mass vaccination in Ohio right now.
“Cleveland is not one of the epicenters for this disease and we just have to be a little bit proactive in preventing that,” Senders said.
Among the groups most at risk for measles are young children and a specific demographic group of adults.
Senders said the CDC changed its guidance in 1989, requiring children to receive a total of two doses of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine instead of just one. He noted that adults born before about 1957 have natural immunity to measles, either having had it themselves or having been exposed to it. He said adults born between about 1957 and 1989 may want to consider a second dose.
McDavid emphasized the importance of young children receiving their second dose of MMR vaccine and noted that if adults are unsure how many doses they themselves have had, it wouldn’t be harmful to get another. Overall, she noted how critical it was for people to get immunized.
“In the closed communities like the Amish community or the Orthodox Jewish community where we’re seeing this, that’s one thing,” McDavid said. “But we’re more concerned about the parents who are not having their children immunized. That’s the part that’s the most crucial.”
Both doctors said children under a year old usually do not get the MMR vaccine because at six to 12 months of age, maternal antibodies prevent the vaccine from doing what it normally would. Still, the CDC recommends babies six to 11 months old receive one dose of MMR vaccine if traveling overseas.