Measles precautions urged by North Carolina health officials

Published 4:37 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2019

With multiple measles outbreaks occurring in the United States, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging preventive measures and reminding everyone that vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against measles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 764 people from 23 states were confirmed to have measles from Jan. 1 to May 3. No cases of measles have been identified in North Carolina in 2019, however, outbreaks have recently been reported in Georgia and Tennessee.

“Measles is a highly contagious disease and it spreads quickly in children and adults who are not vaccinated,” said State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Tilson, M.D. “All North Carolinians should ensure they and their families are up-to-date on their MMR vaccine.”

Measles can be prevented by the combination MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Public health experts recommend all children receive two doses of MMR vaccine, with the first dose beginning at 12 months of age and a booster at four to six years of age. Adults born in 1957 or later who have not already been vaccinated should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine. Certain adults should get two doses, including college students, healthcare workers and people who travel internationally. A second or “booster” dose is not routinely recommended for other adults who have received at least one dose of a measles vaccine.

The Division of Public Health recently sent a memo to clinicians across North Carolina with recommendations to rapidly identify measles cases and control the spread of infection.

“Vaccines are one of the most important public health successes in protecting the health of our people and preventing disease and death, especially among our most vulnerable community members,” said Dr. Tilson. “The science is very clear; the MMR vaccine is highly effective, safe and readily available. We hope these preventable outbreaks will encourage everyone who has not been vaccinated to contact their primary health care provider or local health department.”

Measles is a respiratory disease that is spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. It also can be transmitted through contact with secretions from the nose or mouth of an infected person. Initial symptoms may include fever, runny nose, watery red eyes and cough, and it is followed by a rash that can spread over the entire body. Measles can also lead to pneumonia and other complications, especially in young children. The disease also poses serious risks for pregnant women, including miscarriage and premature birth.

In 2018, North Carolina reported three cases of measles. One case occurred in an unvaccinated traveler who became ill after returning from overseas, and the disease spread to other members of the household. The last large measles outbreak in North Carolina occurred in 2013, when 23 cases occurred after an unvaccinated traveler returned from India to a community with a low vaccination rate.

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