Vaccination is your best defense against measles by MATT BOBO
Measles is not the souvenir you want to bring home with you if you’re traveling. Before you travel outside of Alaska, make sure you and your loved ones are protected with the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, plus other routine vaccines and an annual flu shot. You should plan to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before you depart.
Even if you’re not leaving Alaska anytime soon, you should always make sure your vaccinations are up to date, including the MMR vaccine which protects against three diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination is the best way to protect you and your family against many diseases besides measles, such as mumps, whooping cough, the flu and cancers caused by the HPV virus.
As of Dec. 23, Alaska has had no recent cases of measles; however, our state did have a single case in July that thankfully did not spread to others in the community. MMR vaccine can help protect you and your family in case a person infected with measles brings the disease to Alaska. One dose of MMR vaccine provides 93% protection against measles; two doses provide 97% protection.
Measles has become more common both in the United States and worldwide because some people are choosing not to vaccinate. In 2019, the United States had more than 1,250 cases of measles in over 30 states. Measles outbreaks are currently occurring in several countries, including in some European countries, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Pacific island nations (Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and American Samoa).
The outbreak in the Pacific has been particularly devastating. Samoa, Fiji and Tonga all declared states of emergency due to the high number of cases. Since mid-October when the outbreak began in Samoa, there have been over 5,500 reported cases of measles and 79 deaths. Vaccination rates in Samoa had dropped as low as 30%, but vaccination is now mandatory and rates have risen to 94%, according to the Samoan government and recent news reports.
Measles isn’t just a little rash. It’s a highly contagious viral respiratory illness that can be life-threatening, especially for babies and young children. Severe cases of measles can lead to brain damage and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 10 million people annually around the world get measles, and over 100,000 of them die from it.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases; it spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes and is so infectious that if one person has it, nine out of 10 people around them will become infected if they are not immune (i.e. vaccinated or had measles previously).
Measles starts with a fever, cough, runny nose and red watery eyes, typically 10-18 days after exposure to the virus. Then, 3-7 days later, a red blotchy rash appears, starting on the head and spreading down the body to the arms and legs and lasting for about 4-6 days. The infectious period for measles is 4 days before the rash appears to 4 days after.
If you are concerned that you may have measles, call your health care provider before visiting an office or clinic. Your provider will likely give you special instructions to avoid infecting others.
To learn more about how to protect yourself against measles, visit the CDC’s measles website, www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html, or the DHSS measles page, measles.dhss.alaska.gov. To learn more about other diseases that can be prevented through vaccination, visit this CDC webpage: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/index.html
If you are traveling with an infant, you may want to vaccinate your child with an early dose of MMR at 6-11 months of age. The CDC does not recommend measles vaccine for children younger than six months of age. For more information about special precautions to protect you and your family against measles before international travel, visit this CDC webpage: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/index.html
Some vaccines may be required before you travel to certain countries. Check for any health concerns and vaccine requirements before you go: www.cdc.gov/travel.com
Matt Bobo, MPH, is the immunization program manager with the Division of Public Health, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
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