After a California-centered measles outbreak that has affected at least three Utah residents — as well as 146 others in seven states, Canada and Mexico — Dr. Joseph Miner of the Utah County Health Department is still concerned that the public is not as knowledgeable as it ought to be about the potential for a serious outbreak in the state.
“Because the vaccine has been so successful, a lot of parents think they are not at risk and don’t know how serious [outbreaks] are,” Miner told KSL News Feb. 17.
Many of those affected by the California outbreak either visited Disneyland or were in contact with other park guests or workers. The strain contracted by the patients is similar to one prevalent in the Philippines, which is unsurprising given the number of out-of-country tourists who visit the amusement park every year. Most of the infected people had not been vaccinated.
All three of the cases in Utah involved unvaccinated teens from the same family.
Miner said it’s important that people look to history for perspective on just how seriously measles should be taken, and let that guide both policy debates and personal decisions regarding vaccination opt-outs.
“Cemeteries have many, many gravesites of infants, toddlers and preschool children who died from vaccine-preventable diseases,” he warned. “We could easily return to that if people decided they didn’t want to immunize.”
A National Focus on Measles
The most recent outbreak has also spurred conversation on a national level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on the treatment of measles Feb. 20, saying that Vitamin A should be used.
Patients should be treated in airborne isolation rooms to prevent the transmission of the highly contagious disease, and people showing symptoms are being encouraged to call their healthcare providers for guidance instead of just showing up in clinics or emergency rooms, since a lack of adequate preparation places other patients at risk.
The good news, at least, is that modern tools in the form of electronic health records are helping physicians and public health officials to better track immunizations and urge non-compliant patients to come in for the necessary shots.
As of 2013, about 69% of physicians reported that they had already applied or intended to apply to participate in the Medicare or Medicaid EHR incentive programs — one major driver of the rapid adoption of electronic records — and having such records makes it far easier for staff to rapidly contact people who may simply have forgotten about the vaccination schedule, rather than purposefully chosen not to vaccinate.
The MMR (measures, mumps and rubella) vaccine is typically given in two doses, the first between 12 and 15 months of age and the second between ages four and six.