SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – It’s that time of year for coughs and high fevers along with runny noses and red, watery eyes. It may sound like the flu but it might actually be the measles.
Health experts declared measles eliminated in the year 2000. But you may have seen it’s come roaring back this winter in the Pacific Northwest just one year after Pennsylvania reported its own measles outbreak. As Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller explains, this highly contagious disease is causing concern about a greater public health risk.
It’s a sobering scene in Washington state these days. Security guards are stationed outside the hospital screening visitors for potential signs of the measles to prevent interaction with vulnerable patients. As of Tuesday, Washington reported 50 cases of the measles with the virus also confirmed in eight other states. “We’re seeing high fevers. We’re seeing deaths. We’re seeing symptoms from the measles. However, it’s all preventable,” said Commonwealth Health Family Medicine Physician Daniel Shust, MD.
Preventable because the vast majority of people infected with measles never got the vaccination. The vaccine is recommended for children when they are a year old then a second and final shot at four years of age. Some parents refuse the vaccine claiming it causes autism but studies disprove that claim. “All the evidence is out there. All of the papers have been debunked,” said Dr. Shust.
Before the measles vaccination program started in the U-S in 1963, the CDC reports up to four million cases of measles were documented each year in America. The Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine called MMR is credited with reducing measles cases by more than 99 percent compared to previous years.
Dr. Shust says the danger of measles is especially high for children with compromised immune systems or serious diseases. “If our kid gets sick with the measles, he’s going to infect that child and they don’t have the reserve to fight off that infection.”
Studies also show getting the measles as a child can suppress the immune system for three more years leaving that child more vulnerable to other serious illnesses. Dr. Shust said, “I wouldn’t want to expose my child to something that’s going to cause death or the possibility of death.”
Dr. Shust said another concern is that measles are linked to sterility for boys after the onset of puberty. So far, Pennsylvania has no confirmed cases of the measles this year but just to our north more than 200 cases are reported in New York state.