ST. GEORGE – With the recent measles outbreak making headlines and three confirmed measles cases in northern Utah, local residents may be wondering how they can protect themselves and their families.
There are millions of measles cases, mostly in children, and thousands of measles-related deaths each year in developing countries, David Heaton, Southwest Utah Public Health Department information officer, said.
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While measles was eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, it can still enter the country through infected travelers and can be spread among nonimmunized people. Measles, like many other infectious diseases, is kept at bay by immunization efforts worldwide, Heaton said.
“The more people who make the choice not to vaccinate, the higher the chance we will see outbreaks like this one become more frequent in the United States,” he said.
The local health department and healthcare providers are prepared, he said. In the event of an outbreak in Southern Utah, there is a plan in place.
If a measles case occurs in Southern Utah, the health department will immediately conduct an investigation and make sure anyone the infected person has come in contact with is warned as soon as possible and either has proof of immunity or begins a self-quarantine while monitoring for symptoms until considered safe, Heaton said.
Any public places where infected individuals visited would also be published through the media. If measles cases put schools at risk, the health department would work with school districts to have all unvaccinated students sent home for the duration of the outbreak period, which would likely be at least 21 days, he said.
Local hospitals, facilities and doctors are also prepared to identify and deal with measles cases.
“Information has been distributed to all emergency rooms within Intermountain. All Intermountain employees are required to be immune to measles by either immunization or by documented natural disease – those of us born prior to 1957,” Terri Draper, communications director for Intermountain Healthcare’s southwest region, said.
Since the outbreak began, information about measles symptoms and treatment has been given to physicians, Draper said.
“We take the measles very seriously and are being watchful,” she said.
Health department measles FAQ
The current “Disneyland” measles outbreak has infected almost 90 people, ranging from 7 months to 70 years old. The outbreak originated at Disneyland in California during December 2014.
Most measles cases are based in California, with the remaining cases occurring in seven other states – including three cases in northern Utah – and in Mexico. The vast majority of cases have been in unvaccinated people, and 25 percent of people infected have had to be hospitalized.
What is measles?
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory illness. The virus can live up to two hours, both in the air and on surfaces where an infected person coughed or sneezed. Measles is so contagious that 90 percent of people close to an infected person will become infected if they are not immune.
Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and sore throat, followed by a blotchy rash that spreads over the body. People at highest risk are pregnant women, infants under 6 months old, those with weakened immune systems and anyone who is unvaccinated.
Hasn’t measles been eradicated in the United States?
Yes, since 2000. However, it can still enter the country through infected travelers and spread among unimmunized people.
How can measles be prevented?
The best prevention is vaccination with the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) shot. All children should be immunized with two doses: one at 12-15 months and another between ages 4-6.
Adults who have no evidence of immunity (documentation or lab tests) who were born after 1957 should get at least one dose of MMR. Ask your healthcare provider if you should get a booster. The MMR is more than 95 percent effective. A second dose increases immunity to 99 percent.
Is the measles vaccine safe?
The MMR vaccine is quite safe. Talk to your healthcare provider or local health department if you have any concerns or questions. There is no link between the MMR and autism. The infamous study released in the 1990s suggesting otherwise has since been proven false.
How did this outbreak start?
Health officials believe this outbreak began with an infected foreign traveler or a U.S. resident who went abroad and returned with the virus.
Is it safe to go to Disneyland?
If you have been vaccinated against measles, it should be safe to go. California health officials are currently recommending that people who have not been vaccinated should avoid visiting Disneyland.
Where can I get vaccinated?
At your local health department or at many healthcare providers.
Should adults be immunized?
Adults should be immunized if they have only been vaccinated once. Anyone born before 1957 is assumed to have been exposed to measles and have immunity.
Currently, two measles vaccinations are recommended for ideal lifetime immunity in people born in 1957 or after.
If you’re not sure if you’ve been properly vaccinated and can’t locate your immunization records, you can get a booster shot from the health department or your healthcare provider. You can also request a blood test, called a “titer,” from your healthcare provider to see if you have immunity.
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KCSG Reporter Melissa Anderson contributed the videocast to this report for KCSG and St. George News.
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