OPINION

Vaccination key to measles eradication

After the millions of Covid-19 cases reported during the pandemic, 58 cases of measles in three months doesn't seem to qualify as an outbreak, but after nearly eradicating the disease in the United States, health officials are concerned by its reemergence.

The Georgia Department of Public Health issued a statement Friday urging parents to make sure their children are up to date with measles vaccinations.

"Measles vaccination is important for all children to prevent measles infection and reduce the risk of community transmission," the DPH statement said, "but it is especially important for families with children planning to travel outside of the United States."

Among 58 measles cases reported in the U.S. so far in 2024, 54 (93%) were linked to international travel, the DPH said. Most cases reported this year have been among children over the age of 12 months who had not received MMR vaccine.

In Georgia, there have been two reported cases of measles in 2024. The individuals were unvaccinated, from the same family, and had traveled outside of the country.

Measles is very contagious and spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The measles virus can stay in the air for up to 2 hours after an infected person is there so you can become infected by simply being in a room where an infected person once was.

Measles symptoms usually appear 7 to 14 days (sometimes up to 21 days) after contact with the virus. Symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes, followed by a rash of tiny, red spots that starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body. Individuals infected with measles are contagious from 4 days before the rash starts through 4 days afterward.

The Mayo Clinic warns that measles can be serious and even fatal for small children. Worldwide, the disease still kills more than 200,000 people a year, mostly children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's linked to brain swelling that can cause deafness or intellectual disability, as well as to pneumonia, which is the leading cause of death from measles. It can also cause serious complications for pregnant women.

Measles can be prevented with the MMR vaccine, which is safe and highly effective. The DPH said two doses of MMR vaccine are 97% effective against measles; one dose is 93% effective.

The CDC recommends children receive their first dose of MMR vaccine between 12-15 months of age and a second dose between 4-6 years old. At least two weeks before traveling internationally, infants aged 6 to 11 months should have one dose of MMR vaccine and children aged 12 months and older should have two doses of MMR vaccine. Parents should consult with their child's healthcare provider to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccines and any other vaccines that may be needed.

Many years ago, America led the world in eradicating smallpox. We were on our way to doing so with measles, and the key to both campaigns was vaccinations.

Even with the latest outbreak, measles is on the ropes in America. Make sure your children are vaccinated so we can finish the job.

-- Valdosta Daily Times. March 22, 2024.

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