Should Connecticut Fear a Measles Outbreak?

Measles' Return
Print icon

Here’s a certainty about measles. Anyone who receives the proper dose of measles vaccine will never get the infectious viral disease, even if exposed to it.

Some baby boomers will recall the days before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, when there were 4 million cases, 48,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths nationally every year. By 2000, though, measles essentially vanished from the United States, wiped out by immunization. But now it’s back, with outbreaks recently in California, Washington state, New York and New Jersey.

In Connecticut, health officials announced the year’s first case of measles Jan. 28. Two more cases were confirmed Feb. 3 by Yale New Haven Hospital officials. Even though the three cases match last year’s total, the high rate of vaccination in the state could minimize the chances of a widespread outbreak.

“That remains to be seen,” says Dr. Jack Ross, chief of infectious disease at Hartford Hospital, “but the past suggests Connecticut will not see the scope of Washington or California, but be at risk for imported cases as in the past.”

Measles, a highly infectious disease with complications particularly dangerous for young children, is back at least in part because of lapses in vaccination fueled by mistrust and misinformation. In a recent week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 20 of 30 cases reported in Clark County, Wash., were people who had not been immunized. By the end of  January, 47 cases had been reported in Clark County.

“Vaccination is key to public health,” says Dr. Ross, “relieving all of us of the tragedy and misery of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, smallpox, measles and meningitis. Ask anyone who has experienced shingles — they would gladly, in retrospect, take the shingles vaccines.”

The suspicion about the possible dangers of the measles vaccine is associated with an article in the journal Lancet in 1998 by British physician Andrew Wakefield that linked the vaccine to autism in children. Although the article was debunked — Wakefield was subsequently banned from practicing medicine — parents in several areas around the country, still clinging to the vaccine-autism myth, have not allowed their children to be vaccinated.

“Sadly,” says Dr. Ross, “the Lancet article has led to the current situation and the previous outbreak at Disney (2015) in California. The article has been totally refuted and retracted when shown to be fraudulent due to fabrication of the data by the author. Unfortunately,  celebrities and parents looking for an explanation for their offspring’s condition have perpetuated the myth.”

Measles typically begins with a fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. It progresses, three to five days later, to a rash that begins at the hairline on the face and spreads to much of the body. Those most likely to get measles are children under 5 and adults over 20. Pneumonia is a common complication and the most likely to cause death. (Children under 5 have the highest chance of death attributed to measles.)

“Measles is spread by the airborne route and persists suspended in the room up to two hours after a person with measles departs,” says Dr. Ross. “It has an attack rate of 90 to 95 percent in those not immune to measles, especially the young. One case of measles can lead to 18 additional cases in non-immune contacts.”

The first reports of measles in the state this year has not resulted in widespread alarm because, for the 2017-18 school year, 98.2 percent of kindergartners and seventh-graders were vaccinated against measles, according to public health records. In Connecticut, students are allowed a religious or medical exemption. That accounts for the remaining 1.8 percent of the 83,508 students. The state also requires vaccination with two doses of MMR, unless exempted, to attend in-state schools and colleges.

In California, however, several counties reported vaccination rates lower than the required 90 percent for herd immunity that also protects people in the community who have not been vaccinated. Local officials say more parents in these areas are seeking medical exemptions from willing doctors.

“The use of medical exemptions is fashionable in some social circles among misinformed parents,” said Dr. Ross, “and usually are not based on valid reasons to exempt. The social psychology on the medical provider to please the parent, and give the exemption, is immense at times. These practices undermine the public health for all of us, and threaten the public health gains of the last 60 years.”

If you have questions or concerns about your health, talk to your doctor. If you’re in need of a doctor, please visit myhhcdocs.org.

 

 

 

 


What's New

Hoarding Study

Institute of Living Study: What Motivates a Hoarder?

To understand hoarding and cultivate a healthy mindset beyond the large-scale purging of piles and boxes of belongings, behavioral health clinicians must first understand what motivates the hoarder. Researchers with the Hartford HealthCare Institute of Living in Hartford will probe that motivation more closely as part of the new study “Emotional...

Opioids illustration

These Three Medications Are the Best Way To Fight Opioid Epidemic

Fentanyl, the super-potent synthetic opioid that dealers and distributors have introduced into the illicit drug stream, has complicated efforts nationwide to prevent opioid-overdose deaths. Fentanyl, inexpensive to manufacture in “basement labs,” is being added to opioids and cocaine to stretch supplies and boost the highs, according to Dr. J. Craig Allen,...

Suicide Prevention

IOL Sets Conference as Part of World Suicide Prevention Day

As American healthcare progresses on many fronts, trends around suicide remain alarming with the Centers for Disease Control saying the suicide rate is the highest it’s been since World War II. Consider these statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: In 2017, there were 13.42 suicides per 100,000 people....

Millennials' health

Why Are Millennials Less Healthy Than Gen Xers?

So often, people say “it’s an age thing,” but in the case of millennials, poor health may be directly related to their age, and their regular use of social media and electronic devices. According to a report issued as part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Association “Health of...

Jeffrey Flaks

Leadership Change at Hartford HealthCare

Hartford HealthCare has named Jeffrey A. Flaks its President and Chief Executive Officer, effective Sept. 1. Flaks succeeds Elliot Joseph, who has been Hartford HealthCare’s Chief Executive Officer since 2013. Joseph made the decision to retire after leading the organization for more than 10 years. “For several years, the Hartford...


Program Spreads Hope, Health and Healing for Abused Children and Teens

The eighth grader knew she needed to tell someone. She turned to her school guidance counselor and revealed her uncle had touched her inappropriately the night before. How could she go home? Several blocks away, a teen-aged girl was sexually assaulted by a former boyfriend. Traumatized, she would later tell...


More Screen Time? It’s Now Part of Teens’ Mental Health Treatment

By Dr. Paul Weigle Psychiatrist, Natchaug Hospital Contrary to what you may think, video games, social media and related digital technology can actually improve the mental health of our younger generation. This is not to say Little Johnny should be allowed to lock himself in the basement and play Fortnite around...