Rash Of Measles Illustrates Importance Of Immunization

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - State health officials confirmed two new cases of measles in Sedgwick County Thursday.

They're linked to a recent outbreak of more than a dozen cases in the Kansas City area, and add to what is the worst year for measles in the U.S. since 1996. Health officials say the situation underscores the importance of immunization because, in most cases, the people infected were not vaccinated.

"It's alarming how sharply (the number of cases has) gone up," said Dr. Randy Schumacher, a pediatrician at PediatricCare in Topeka.

Through July 3, the Centers for Disease Control reported 554 cases in 20 states, including five in Kansas. It's the most since 1996, when the U.S. saw 508 cases for the whole year. The number was down to 86 cases in 2000.

Schumacher says measles usually begins with a fever, which progresses to a cough, congestion and runny nose, followed by pink eye and then a rash that starts at the head and works its way down the body. The best protection is immunization.

"One of the reasons (measles) is so dangerous is it's so contagious," Schumacher said. "Pretty much anyone that is unimmunized against measles that comes in contact with it will get it. It replicates in the back of our throat, so any breathing, sneezing, coughing - which people who have it are going to do - it's gonna spread."

Most of the current cases are linked with international travel, particularly to the Philippines, which is seeing a major measles outbreak. In most cases, the patients are not fully immunized.

KDHE says the most recent Kansas cases involve an unvaccinated adult and an infant too young to have been immunized. Infants get their first MMR dose at one year, with a booster required before kindergarten, usually ages four to six. Until then, Schumacher says they rely on the adults around them for a major dose of protection.

"If they have (the vaccinatin), then they don't get (measles) and don't spread it to younger children," Schumacher said.

Schumacher says it's a serious situation because nearly a third of children who get measles will develop complications like pneumonia or even encephalitis, an infection around the brain which can cause permanent disability or even death.

The CDC says the U.S. immunization rate for measles is over 90 percent, but Schumacher says he is hearing more concerns from parents about whether vaccines are safe, particularly any link to autism. Schumacher says vaccines are safe and there are no studies establishing a connection between vaccines and autism. (He says a study from the 1990s has since been discredited.) Schumacher suggests anyone with fears about vaccination safety talk to their doctor to get information.