No measles in Ohio yet, but vaccines highly recommended

Although measles isn’t an imminent threat in Seneca County, two public health nurses at Seneca County General Health District said it’s still a good idea for county residents to understand how the highly-contagious virus could affect them.

The nurses said anyone — adult or child — who is not vaccinated against measles should do so immediately because travelers who visit foreign countries or an infected area of the United States could be exposed — and people returning from other areas could bring the virus back to the county.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 1,000 cases of measles in 28 states as of Thursday. Among those states are four of Ohio’s five neighboring states — Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

Total numbers were up 41 cases since the previous week.

In addition, CDC said this year’s number is the largest reported in the United States since 1992, and since measles was thought to be eliminated in 2000.

Andrea Cook, the health district’s director of nursing, gave an example of an actual case of how the virus can spread quickly. A young man in college who was not vaccinated traveled to China, where he unknowingly was exposed to the measles virus. He had no symptoms when he left China, but started to feel ill on the way home. He exposed every person on every plane he rode on and exposed more people when he got home.

“You can see how wide this can spread,” she said.

International travel is common today, especially when students at Tiffin’s two universities travel abroad or when business people work on international projects.

“It isn’t like the old days when you knew everybody in your neighborhood,” she said.

Rita Schank, immunization coordinator for the health department, said a child as young as 6 months may be vaccinated if parents are taking him or her to another country. For example, a couple was taking their 10-month-old on a trip to China so she gave the child the first dose of the vaccine.

Otherwise, she said the scheduled age to receive the MMR vaccine — to protect against measles, mumps and rubella — is between 12 and 15 months and the second dose is required between ages 4 and 6 before entering school. One dose is 93% effective and two doses is 97% effective.

Older children or adults should be vaccinated now, especially people who work with children. (People who were born before 1957 are assumed to be immune.)

“I urged them to get in here as soon as possible,” Schank said. “Every day you get some antibodies, but if you want antibodies, it’s going to take you a good two weeks.”

Cook said the U.S. cases are not targeting a specific age group. She said 20 percent of people with the illness were age 19 or older, and 78 percent had not been vaccinated.

The nurses agreed it’s still possible to contract measles after being vaccinated, but the chance drop significantly. The vaccine does not protect about 3% of the population.

“It depends on how your body responds to the vaccine,” Schank said. “If you’re one of the very few that don’t (respond well), you could get measles. Nothing is 100%.”

After a person contracts the illness, there’s not much they can do except suffer through it. In some cases, it can cause death.

One of the reasons it’s highly contagious is because people who have been exposed do not develop symptoms for about four days.

“You might not even know,” Schank said.

The first symptoms are similar to a cold with a cough, fever and watery eyes – and then the sore throat and Koplik spots show up.

A news release from the state health department said measles is “extremely contagious and can spread to others through coughing and sneezing.” If one person has measles, up to 90% of those close to that person and who are not immune also will become infected. The measles virus can live for up to two hours in air where an infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch an infected surface and then touch their eyes, noses or mouths, they can also become infected. People infected with measles can spread it to others from four days before, through four days after, a rash appears.

During pregnancy, measles increases the risk of premature labor, miscarriage and low-birth­weight infants. Measles can be especially severe in persons with compromised immune systems. Complications from measles are more common among children younger than 5 years old and adults older than 20.

Schank said keeping shot records up to date is important.

“It’s a parent’s responsibility to keep track of their children’s vaccine records,” she said. But she said it’s not going to harm a child to get a third dose of MMR vaccine if the status isn’t known.

“Keep your shot record,” she said. “It’s a very important medical record because that’s the only way you can prove as a parent that your children got their vaccines.”

Records are needed to enter kindergarten, grade 7, grade 12 and college.

Children who are not vaccinated are at increased risk.

“If there’s a case at school, every child who is not vaccinated can’t go to school,” Schank said. “Parents are then responsible for hiring tutors because parents aren’t following state law. They could be out for months.”

Vaccinated children also help to protect about 10 percent of kids who can’t get a vaccine because of health issues.

The nurses agreed there’s a good chance measles with enter Ohio, and the health department received a grant from the Ohio Department of Health to provide information to health care professionals.

“We’re going to be working to improve vaccination rates,” Cook said.