Linda Fu, MD, MS, is the Director of Immunization Quality Improvement at Children’s National Health System. An expert in vaccinations, she talked to us about the spread of measles and the role of immunization in keeping kids safe.
How are measles spread?
Measles is highly contagious. One in 10 people who are not vaccinated and are exposed to a single person with measles will become infected. It spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing. Even if you're not right next to someone with measles who’s sneezing or coughing, you can still be exposed since the live virus can linger in the air and also on surfaces two hours later.
Weren’t measles eliminated?
Measles was virtually eliminated in the United States by the year 2000 because we achieved very high vaccination rates in this country. However, in recent years with more international travel and declining vaccination rates, we are seeing an increase in measles cases in the US. The fact is that we've had more cases in 2014 than we've seen in over two decades. 2015 is shaping up to be worse than 2014 in terms of number of cases of measles.
What is the connection between not getting vaccinated and outbreaks?
There is a strong relationship between not getting vaccinated and measles outbreaks because the disease is so highly contagious without vaccination. The majority of people who have been infected with measles, including in this recent outbreak in the U.S., are unvaccinated. Being unvaccinated puts individuals and their communities at risk.
Are there benefits to not getting vaccinated?
The measles vaccine has been around for more than 50 years and most people younger than age 50 received at least one dose at some time or another. The vaccine has proven to be safe and effective. Additionally, the supposed link between the measles vaccine and autism has been consistently disproven and discredited in numerous studies.
Why is vaccination important?
I know that all parents, including those who are somewhat fearful of vaccines, want to do what's best for their children. I understand this instinct to cocoon your children. Being a parent myself, as well as someone with training in both medicine and also research methods, I can say without any hesitation that vaccinating my own children with all recommended vaccinations on time has been one of the most important actions I have taken to protect their health. Certain people such as pregnant women, very young children, and children with medical conditions such as leukemia cannot receive the measles vaccine.
Is it difficult to diagnose the measles?
It is difficult to diagnose measles if the disease isn't even on your radar. Many people, including pediatricians younger than age 50, have never seen a case of measles. It's been a while since even those older than 50 have seen a case. That is why it is so important for all healthcare staff, from the doctor to the front office team, to be familiar with the signs and symptoms and to have procedures in place to quickly move children who potentially have measles into a separate room to avoid exposing others. At Children’s National, we have strict infection control procedures in place, to help keep our patients, visitors and staff safe and healthy.