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Worried about measles?

| Monday, May 29, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a physician with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a physician with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A recent measles warning by the Pennsylvania Department of Health led us to Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert for Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The DOH last week alerted travelers that they could have been exposed to measles at the Endless Mountains Welcome Center in Great Bend, along I-81 Southbound near the Pennsylvania/New York border, between 8 p.m. and midnight on May 12. We asked Adalja to explain whether measles is a growing concern?

Why do we people still contract measles?

Though measles was eliminated from the Americas it is important to remember it still circulates in many parts of the world such as Europe and Asia. Travelers to those areas who are not vaccinated can acquire the infection and bring it back to the US where others who are not vaccinated can acquire the virus. Last year 188 cases were reported in the US and this year 61 cases have been reported, with a relatively large Minnesota outbreak tied to the anti-vaccine movement contributing significantly to the case count.

How long do they linger in an area?

Measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases. Its contagiousness is driven by the fact that is spread via the airborne route which allows infectious particular to remain suspended in the air and able to infect vulnerable individuals. Measles outbreaks persist so long as there are susceptible individuals around which is why population level immunity is so important in controlling this infection. High “herd” immunity makes it much more difficult for the virus to find people to infect.

How serious are measles?

Measles causes a range of illness: some mild and some very severe. Mild symptoms include cough, runny nose, red eyes and the characteristic rash while severe cases can cause pneumonia or brain infection. During a recent Disneyland outbreak about 20% of those infected were hospitalized. Worldwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 134,000 people die of measles yearly.

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