Nationwide measles outbreak leads to call for action by health officials

Morning Journal/Stephanie Ujhelyi Stephanie Summers, nurse for the East Liverpool Health District, holds up a recently discarded vial administered in her office, which is located on the second floor of city hall. Public health officials urge those who have never been vaccinated for measles or ever contracted it to get vaccinated now, as the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine provides 97 percent protection from measles when administered as directed. The vaccine can be free for age 18 and younger without insurance coverage.

EAST LIVERPOOL–For youth 18 years and younger, the vaccination doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

With more than a 1,000 individual cases confirmed in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), health professionals are deeming the country in an outbreak and urging those who can’t confirm receipt of the vaccine or past infection to get it.

As Carol Cowan, East Liverpool health commissioner, explained the number of measles cases are highest in New York, California, Pennsylvania and Washington and attributable to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large measles outbreaks are occurring. “We are seeing a definite outbreak, and we are especially concerned about the immune suppressed. One hundred percent of the infected were unvaccinated, so we are pursuing this with a certain urgency,” she added. “It takes a community effort to be responsible.”

While there was 63 cases of measles in 2010, there have been 1,044 so far in 2019 and we still have another five months to go. Cases have steadily grown from 86 in 2016, 120 in 2017 and 372 last year, according to the CDC.

Measles is very contagious and spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The ailment starts with a fever, then the cough and running nose with red eyes before the rash.

And, the disease can be prevented with the MMR vaccine, which also protects against mumps and rubella.

Children are recommended to receive two doses: one at 12-15 months and a second dose at age 4 through 6, explained Stephanie Summers, city public nurse. When administered, a single MMR dose is 93 percent effective, while two doses are 97 percent effective at preventing measles.

Among adults, the two vaccines are administered four weeks apart and costs approximately $80 per dose for the self-paying adult.

Through its Vaccines For Children program, those same self-payers receive the vaccine at age 18 and younger at no cost.

Both women say that no one in the East Liverpool area nor Ohio allegedly have reported the illness; however, four area residents got vaccinated after a recent measles outbreak last month near Pittsburgh, which is less than one hour drive away.

According to media outlets, five cases of measles were confirmed last month in Allegheny County, three of which were visiting from overseas and individuals were quarantined to their home. Officials theorize that the public exposure occurred at the Pittsburgh International Airport for the fourth individual who was traveling≥

In addition to those who travel internationally or may be immune suppressed, Summers said that those in the medical field or college students also may be high risk.

Complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis, are more common in children under the age of 5, adults older than 20, pregnant women (who cannot be immunized during pregnancy), and people with compromised immune systems.

“Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated three to four million people got measles each year in the United States,” explained Cowan. “Of these, approximately 500,000 cases were reported each year to CDC. Of these, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized and 1,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling from measles).”

“Since then, widespread use of measles vaccines have led to greater than 99 percent reduction in measles cases compared with the pre-vaccine era. However, measles is still common in other countries. Unvaccinated people continue to get measles while abroad and bring the disease into the United States to others,” Cowan said. “We have zero reported cases in East Liverpool, and we want to keep it that way.”

For more information, stop by the East Liverpool Health District offices between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays at city hall or call 330-385-5123 for an appointment. (Bringing a shot record to the appointment is helpful.) In areas outside the city health district, contact 330-424-0272.