Beaufort County Health Department: Measles Information

Published 8:39 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dear Beaufort County Residents:

In light of the recent publicity related to the large, multi-state measles outbreak linked to an amusement park in California, the Beaufort County Board of Health encourages everyone to assure their families are properly immunized against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Every year, measles is brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers who become infected while they are in other countries. These infected travelers can then spread measles to other people who are not protected against the virus, which sometimes lead to outbreaks. Common complications from measles infection include otitis media (ear infection), pneumonia, bronchitis and diarrhea. More serious complication include acute encephalitis (1 out of every 1000 cases), death from respiratory and neurologic complications (1 or 2 out of 1000 children infected), and Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE) which is a rare but fatal neurological disease that generally develops 7 to 10 years after measles infection.

Most people in the United States are protected against measles through vaccination. Since 2000, when measles was thought eliminated from the U.S., the annual number of people reported to have measles increased from a low of 37 people in 2004 to a high of 644 people in 2014. Measles elimination is defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area. The U.S. was able to eliminate measles because it has a highly effective measles vaccine, a strong vaccination program that achieves high vaccine coverage rates in children and a strong public health system for detecting and responding to measles cases and outbreaks. Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, it is estimated that about

3 to 4 million people contracted measles each year in the U.S. Of these people, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling).

Measles is highly contagious. If one person has it, 9 out of 10 unvaccinated people around him or her will become infected. You can get measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, even up to two hours after the person has left. People who are unvaccinated for any reason, including those who refuse vaccination, risk getting infected with measles and spreading it to others, including those who cannot get vaccinated because they are too young or have specific health conditions.

The measles vaccine is very effective. One dose of measles vaccine is about 93% effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus and two doses are about 97% effective. Fully vaccinated people who might still get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness and they are less likely to spread the disease to other people. Because signs of autism may appear around the same time children receive the MMR vaccine, some parents may worry that the vaccine causes autism. Vaccine safety experts, including experts at CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), agree that MMR vaccine is not responsible for recent increases in the number of children with autism. In 2004, a report by the Institute of Medicine {IOM) concluded that there is no link between autism and MMR vaccine, and that there is no link between autism and vaccines that contain thimerosal as a preservative.

Highly sustained measles vaccine coverage in the population and rapid public health responses are critical for preventing and controlling measles cases and outbreaks.


Mike Crawford, MD Chairman, Beaufort Coun