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Doctor urges W.Pa. parents to notice measles signs, stresses importance of vaccines

| Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, 7:20 p.m.

Even 2,400 miles from Disneyland, Western Pennsylvanians should keep a careful watch for measles symptoms because a rare outbreak tied to the southern California amusement park has sickened at least 78 people, public health experts said.

“As people return to their homes, there's a chance that they could bring measles with them. It's important to know what the symptoms are,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, the Allegheny County Health Department director, who encouraged people to review their vaccination records.

It can take a week or two after infection for the virus to begin producing symptoms, which can include a high fever, cough, runny nose or red, watery eyes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The telltale rash usually follows.

Although doctors in Allegheny County haven't treated any known measles patients since May 2014, cases reported to the CDC last year reached a record 644 in 27 states, up from fewer than 200 in 2013.

Pennsylvania accounted for three of the 2014 cases. Most of the known cases in the United States since Jan. 1 are linked to the Disneyland outbreak, which began in December and spread to six states and Mexico.

The CDC has said overseas outbreaks spread through unvaccinated people account for much of the highly contagious illness, for which shots have been available since 1963.

The effectiveness rate of the vaccine tops 95 percent in people who get the recommended two shots, said Dr. Marian Michaels, an infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

About 91 percent of Allegheny County kindergarten students have the recommended vaccination, according to the county health department.

“You can't rest on your laurels. You can always do better. We have to still maintain vigilance,” said Michaels, who urged vaccination.

“As people see the disease less frequently, I think sometimes they forget the importance.”

She estimated that measles caused brain damage in about 4,000 children across the country each year before the vaccine became widespread.

Deaths numbered several hundred out of more than 500,000 people who contracted the illness each year, she said.

Measles-related deaths are reported in the U.S. less than once a decade.

“Vaccination is one of the single most powerful public health tools that we have had,” Hacker said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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