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Wed, Oct. 23

Best odds against measles outbreak: vaccination

County Supervisor Chairman Randy Garrison getting his annual influenza immunization. (Yavapai County Community Health Services/Courtesy)

County Supervisor Chairman Randy Garrison getting his annual influenza immunization. (Yavapai County Community Health Services/Courtesy)

If you’re more than a half century old, there is a chance you might remember with less than fond memories what it was like to suffer with a case of the measles.

Beyond the unsightly rash, the highly contagious childhood affliction common prior to the 1963 arrival of a preventative vaccine left its young victims suffering with high fevers, a cough, conjunctivitis, and flu-like lethargy. Infants and toddlers were the most susceptible to extreme illness, with side effects ranging from ear infections to what could be fatal brain inflammation and pneumonia, said local health professionals.

As of 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered measles eradicated from the United States because of the widespread use of vaccination combined with adult immunity for those who contracted the disease in their youth, according to Yavapai County Community Health Services. Now the measles is making a reappearance. So Yavapai County health officials want people to be vigilant before an outbreak occurs here.

“We don’t have any measles in Yavapai County yet, but there was a case in Pima County,” said Stephen Everett, an epidemiologist with the Yavapai County Community Health Services.

That confirmed case of measles was found in an infant who traveled with his family to Asia. The baby was too young to be vaccinated against the disease.

In the Pacific Northwest, Everett said there have been some outbreaks linked to what health officials described as “vaccine hesitancy,” a resistance to vaccinating children against communicable diseases.

In an effort to thwart a future outbreak, Everett and the team at Community Health Services want to inform the public of the realities so families take necessary precautions to avoid an epidemic.

The answer is quite simple: vaccination.

Community Health Services Public Health Supervisor Cathy Sutton said vaccinations are the best, and easiest way to avoid the spread of these highly contagious ailments that can make children sick and isolated for extended periods. She said vaccinations have limited side effects, but can have a major impact on a child’s health, and that of those with whom they encounter, be it siblings or playmates. Most insurances cover vaccinations, and the Health Services department provides them at minimal to no cost for those without insurance.

Some people will argue that measles is more of a nuisance illness and so there is no need to be concerned about vaccination, but that is erroneous, according to Everett and national health experts. In undeveloped countries where there is limited availability of vaccination, Everett said more than half a million children die each year of this disease.

The CDC states that one dose of the vaccine is 93 percent effective; the full dose 97 percent.

The combined vaccination against measles, mumps and Rubella is recommended to be delivered to children in two doses: the first at 12 to 15 months old and the second between four and six years of age. Infants who are going to be traveling with families outside the country are recommended to get at least one dose of the vaccine before they leave the country.

Adults immunized as children, or who had the illness as a child, do not need booster shots; they are considered to have lifetime immunity. Adults who have never been vaccinated, particularly those with other health ailments that could worsen conditions were they contract such a disease, are recommended to consult with their doctors.

By state law, all Arizona school-aged children are required to be immunized unless families obtain a personal exemption. That goes for public and charter schools, alike.

In Yavapai County, the vaccination message seems to be adhered to by the majority of residents: the 2017-2018 state Department of Health statistics show Prescott with a 90-94 percent rate; Prescott Valley with a 85-89 percent rate and Chino Valley with an 80-84 percent rate. The CDC prefers a 95-100 percent rate.

Because measles is airborne and the virus can live for several hours, and symptoms do not show until several days after infection, Everett said medical professionals and public health officials are left to do a lot of back tracking to contact those who might have been exposed to an afflicted child.

Anyone who suspects their child might have been exposed to measles, or contracted the virus, is suggested to call their family physician. If the recommendation is for a visit to the doctor, or the emergency room, a call ahead will enable the health facility to make arrangements to isolate the child so as not to infect other patients or staff, Everett said.

“It’s a project,” Everett said of identifying potential victims.

What Everett, Sutton and fellow health professionals want people to realize is that vaccinations are a powerful force against these outbreaks with limited side effects, the most common are low grade fever and temporary soreness from the injection. The notion that vaccinations lead to developmental delays has no roots in medical science, Everett said.

“The dangers of the disease far outweigh any dangers from the vaccine,” he said.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.

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