In 2000, health officials in the US announced – proudly – that measles had been eliminated thanks to the implementation of widespread vaccine programs. In 2019 the highly contagious childhood disease is back, including three confirmed cases this year in Georgia.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has not released many details about the persons affected, except to say they are recovering, they are all from the same family and that none of the affected individuals were vaccinated.
They also went on to advise that anyone showing the telltale symptoms of measles – a rash, fever, runny nose and cough, should call their health care provider before heading to their office – and should certainly not go to an emergency room unannounced – in order to prevent a possible spread of the illness.
Georgia is, however faring better than some other states. In the Pacific Northwest over 3 dozen cases of measles have been confirmed and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee declared an emergency, while also advising that an emergency vaccination program be implemented as the state does have unusually low vaccination rates.
Why is Measles So Feared?
Many older people will often remark that they had measles as a child with no ill effects. And they are quite possibly correct. But measles is far from the benign childhood nuisance that people sometimes assume it to be, especially in the more virulent form it is returning in.
Recently, across social media an old letter written by beloved children’s’ author Roald Dahl has resurfaced and has gone viral. The letter discusses the tragic death of the author’s daughter, as a result of measles, in 1963. When seven year old Olivia Dahl died just two days after contracting the virus no reliable vaccine existed. Tragically it did become available in 1964.
The letter was written in 1986 as a plea to fathers to ensure that their children were vaccinated. And for a time it – and many other such public efforts – worked well. However, as vaccination rates have fallen over the last decade, diseases like measles and whooping cough have returned.
What are the possible effects? According to the CDC:
Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and could die.
By the numbers:
- As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
- About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
- For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.
- Measles may cause pregnant woman to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.
The Importance of Vaccinations For All
The measles outbreaks, including those in Georgia, have served to remind people of the importance of getting vaccinated. All health insurance companies provide provision for vaccination for both children and adults, and there are vaccination programs for the uninsured, so ensuring that those who can be vaccinated are, not only to protect themselves but add to the herd immunity that helps keep others safe, is still a must.