Measles: Health officials voice concern

After the recent measles outbreak linked to California’s Disneyland, Hawai‘i health officials are concerned that unvaccinated people are endangering themselves and others in the state, according to Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist.

After three years with no cases, 15 people in Hawai‘i came down with measles last year, state health officials reported.

“We’ve taken so many leaps forward in medicine, and now we’re in danger of backsliding dangerously,” Park said in a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser article.

“We are seeing increased pockets of people who are not vaccinated, and that is eroding our protection in our communities.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000, but recently more cases have surfaced. In January, 102 people in 14 states contracted measles, most of them related to the recent outbreak at Disneyland.

While some parents believe that measles causes autism, there has been no scientific evidence to prove so, according to the CDC. One study from the American Academy of Pediatrics involving a million children found no difference in autism rates among those who received the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and those who did not.

Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease that can be spread through sneezing or coughing. The virus is a particular threat to babies too young to be vaccinated and to those who can’t receive vaccinations because of medical reasons, such as a weakened immune system.

WCC political science professor Roy Fujimoto said that this disease has all the potential of becoming an epidemic, and the public should be concerned.

Measles affects the part of the body that lines the back of the throat and lungs. It sometimes leads to ear infections, pneumonia and brain swelling and can be life-threatening.

The symptoms of measles include small white spots inside the cheeks and red, watery eyes. A red rash will begin to form along the neck and spread along the back.

Among those still cautious about vaccinations is NYU School of Law professor Mary Holland, who believes that her son developed autism after receiving the MMR vaccine.

Holland has stated that although she is not against vaccination, there have not been enough scientific studies done to prove the vaccine does not cause autism.

There should not be one vaccine for all three viruses and each should be administered separately, according to Holland.

Currently, the MMR vaccine is given in a series of two shots — the first for children between 12 to 15 months of age and the second between four to six years. The CDC says the vaccine protects people for their entire life.

Park has said, “The disease is so contagious that it will infect 90 percent of contacts who are not immune. We urge people who suspect they have meases — that is, fever and widespread rash — to call their doctor right away and isolate themselves from others to help contain the spread of the illiness.”

Some pediatricians have even gone so far as to decline to accept children as patients who have not been vaccinated because of the risk to other children.

The CDC recommends that anyone who is now age 18 or older and who was born after 1956 get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine, unless they can show that they have either been vaccinated or had all three diseases.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said in the Huffington Post that measles can spread even in a highly vaccinated population because the virus is so transmissible.

“When a virus is so easy to catch, it will find the susceptible person, and that’s why even when you have a large proportion of the population that’s vaccinated it can spread,” Schaffner said. If someone with the measles virus sneezes in a room and then leaves, another person can walk in an hour later and become infected, he added.

by Pua Guard, Ka ‘Ohana Co-Editor