Failure to have children vaccinated against serious diseases that once were a major threat is a growing issue. In 2018, the highly contagious viral disease measles returned in South Carolina after a 20-year absence. Outbreaks are being reported elsewhere in the country this year.
Baby boomers know well the disease that so many contracted in their younger years. But vaccines all but wiped out measles – as long as people followed through the vaccination protocol. In the year 2000, measles was declared eliminated from the United States.
For various reasons, including religious beliefs and unsubstantiated claims that vaccines are responsible for autism, some people refuse to have children vaccinated. That’s a potentially deadly decision.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control confirmed six cases of measles in Spartanburg County in 2018. After its investigation of an initial case in October, DHEC made separate announcements of two more and then three more.
“The measles virus is highly contagious and spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” said Dr. Linda Bell, DHEC’s state epidemiologist. “The best way to prevent measles is to get vaccinated. I strongly encourage everyone to review their immunization records and make sure they are up to date on all vaccinations.”
Into the 1960s, almost every child in the United States contracted the measles before age 5. Approximately 500 died from measles annually before the vaccine was introduced.
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The initial symptoms of measles include fever, cough and runny nose. These symptoms are followed in about two to four days by a rash. The rash usually lasts five to six days. Severe complications can occur with measles, including pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death. Complications caused by the virus can occur in as many as three out of 10 cases. Complications are most often seen in children under 5 years of age, adults over the age of 20, pregnant women, and individuals with a weakened immune system.
Most people recover completely on their own. For uncomplicated cases, bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids and over-the-counter medications to reduce the fever and headache may help make infected individuals more comfortable. For those who require hospitalization, supportive care is the only treatment.
The disease is very contagious and is spread to as many as nine out of 10 close contacts who have not had the disease earlier or have not been vaccinated. After an infected person leaves a location, the measles virus remains alive for up to two hours on surfaces and in the air.
According to DHEC, the measles vaccine, which is included in the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, is the best way to protect yourself and others against the measles. About 93 percent of people vaccinated with one dose have permanent protection and about 97 percent get protection after two doses of measles vaccine. The vaccine is recommended for all infants at 12 months of age. A second dose is recommended between 4 to 6 years of age.
The measles vaccine is a requirement to attend daycare or school in South Carolina, and for the 2016-17 school year, 96 percent of kindergarten students had two doses of MMR. But some children are not attending daycare or school, including in situations such as home-schooling. These children are in need of the vaccine as well.
We must not let diseases such as measles again become a threat. Vaccines are safe, effective and the best protection.