Rise in measles cases causes concerns

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Reports of 206 measles cases in the U.S. in just the first two months of 2019 caught the attention of Congress. A Senate panel this week focused on vaccines as a safe way to stop what is a preventable disease.

Topeka area health professionals agree with the message.

"Measles is a really highly contagious illness," said Dr. Kavitha Rao, an infectious disease specialist at Stormont Vail. "If you have a pocket of unvaccinated population and then they get exposed to a measles case, there happens to be an outbreak of measles."

Dr. Rao says measles typically causes a fever, cough and rash - but it can be worse.

"Complications can happen, and the complications include seizure, pneumonia, encephalitis," she said.

The World Health Organization reports 110,000 people worldwide died from measles in 2017. They credit increased vaccinations with bringing that number down from 545,00 in 2000. But recent outbreaks are causing concern - including current cases in Washington state, and last year, Kansas had 21 cases in an outbreak centered in Johnson County.

"Really there is no other treatment for this measles once you get it. It is supportive care," Dr. Rao said.

The CDC recommends one dose of MMR vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age, with a second at 4 to 6 years. In 2017, they did add a recommendation for a third dose for specific populations in outbreak situations. Others might talk to their doctors, too.

"If you have no documented evidence of measles infection or evidence of vaccination, and you're going to travel to a place where it is endemic for measles, then I think you should go ahead and get your vaccination," Dr. Rao said. "If you've not completed your childhood vaccination, you should go ahead and get your booster vaccination."

Some people object to vaccines on grounds of religion and personal freedom, while others continue to question their safety. A new study out this week again found children who get the MMR vaccine are not at increased risk for autism.