Measles Returns - update

by Mary Rains

Mille Lacs Health System


Measles has been around for centuries, and has been partially blamed for wiping out native populations in the Americas. In the decade before 1963 (when a vaccine became available) nearly all children got measles by the time they were teenagers. It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year.

But since the year 2000, it has been considered eradicated in the US. Until recently.

With 50 confirmed cases of measles in Minnesota, including one adult, as of May 11, more will certainly be reported in the coming weeks. It has traveled from Hennepin County to Ramsey, and now to nearby Crow Wing County (the case in Stearns County turned out not to be measles after further testing). 

The measles vaccine was created for a very good reason. Some children can recover from the uncomfortable attack of measles without issue. But in others, it can cause secondary health problems like pneumonia, convulsions, serious infections of the eye, and encephalitis that can cause permanent brain damage or mental handicaps. It has also been known to cause hepatitis, meningitis, and can affect the nerves and muscles of the eye. Rare complications include vision loss and heart and nervous system problems. Some children require hospitalization and death occurs in 1-2 children out of 1,000 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s a serious disease because there is no treatment.

According to the CDC, measles may cause unvaccinated pregnant woman to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.

Measles is very contagious, spreading through the air via droplet transmission from coughing or sneezing. Anybody breathing that air can become infected. The symptoms generally mimic those of a cold, including runny nose; cough; watery, red eyes (conjunctivitis); and a fever, until the rash develops, which is usually about four days after initial symptoms. Infected people are contagious starting four days before the rash appears until day four of the onset of rash. Proper and thorough hand washing is a must if you are dealing with children who have measles.

Health officials investigating the outbreak say that a misconception about immunization and autism is at the heart of the issue. The now infamous Wakefield study of 1998 started that myth, but since then many additional studies have been done, in the US, the UK, and Finland, and no connection has ever been found between autism and vaccinations. The medical journal which  originally published the study (The Lancet) eventually retracted the article. The doctor who did the study had inappropriate financial conflicts of interest, as well as other issues, including records inaccuracy and medical negligence, and only studied 12 children. He lost his medical license and the study has been completely discredited, though many people still believe this myth.

State health officials expect the number of measles cases will grow, and last Thursday expanded their recommendations for stepped-up vaccination in an effort to curb the spread of the disease. 

  • All children 12 months and older who have not received a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine should get the first dose as soon as possible. Adults born in 1957 or later who have never received the MMR vaccine and have never had measles should get the vaccine as soon as possible. 
  • In affected counties, children 12 months and older who received their first dose of the MMR vaccine at least 28 days ago should get their second dose as soon as possible. 
  • Health care providers may recommend an early second dose of the MMR vaccine during routine appointments for children statewide.

Parents whose children need the vaccine should contact their child’s health care provider and specifically tell them that. This may help avoid a longer wait associated with scheduling a routine appointment. “If you think you or your child may have measles, it’s important to call your health care facility before going in so they can take measures to protect other people,” Dr. Ranjita Adhikari, Infectious Disease Director at Mille Lacs Health System said. “The only real way to deal with measles is to get vaccinated.”

Children around the world die from measles every day. That’s because they don’t have access to vaccinations. Don’t let a lack of knowledge about the seriousness of this disease be the reason your child gets measles.