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Measles, a Once Forgotten Disease, is Back

Recent news headlines tell the story: “Houston sees its first case of measles in years” (Houston Chronicle), “Officials investigate first Tarrant County measles cases in 17 years” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram), and “WHO reports measles outbreaks in European countries” (CNN). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms that health officials see a new uptick in the number of American measles cases. They add that at this rate, the United States will have more measles cases this year than any year in more than a decade, with virtually all cases linked to people who have been in other countries.

Vaccines have done such a great job of eradicating the measles here that some people no longer fear the disease. “The measles vaccine is an excellent example of vaccine success,” says Edward A. Dominguez, MD, FACP, member of Texas Medical Association’s (TMA’s) TMA’s Be Wise – ImmunizeSM advisory panel, and former member of TMA’s Council on Health Promotion. Prior to routine vaccination, the infectious disease specialist says, the number of U.S. measles cases averaged 450,000 annually, of which 450 were fatal. Then vaccines slowed disease rates to a trickle.

In fact, health officials declared measles eliminated in the United States in 2000, greatly due to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. When enough of a community is vaccinated against an infectious disease, it protects everyone in the community from contracting it — this is called herd immunity. Since measles is seemingly a disease of the past, some adults are choosing not to vaccinate their children or themselves against it. But physicians now are seeing some patients sick with the measles. In Texas, 177 measles cases occurred between 1993 and 2009. And earlier this year several Somalis living in Minnesota suffered a measles outbreak. Most of the sick children had not been vaccinated for fear of bad side effects from the vaccine. The outbreak hit after an unvaccinated Somali infant returned from a trip to Kenya and spread the disease to the other children. Without herd immunity, measles can spread easily.

Measles is highly contagious, transmitted through the air by coughing, sneezing, and merely breathing. Common measles symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough, and a reddish rash all over the body. Measles is potentially fatal.

TMA physicians say Texans must be vigilant and get their shots. The Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the MMR vaccine for children at age 12—15 months, with a booster at age 4-6 years. U.S. children who travel or live abroad should be vaccinated at an earlier age than those who stay close to home. In fact, all international travelers should be up to date on vaccinations, health officials say.

“Parents, make sure you vaccinate your children according to the recommended guidelines,” says Dr. Dominguez.

TMA’s Be Wise – Immunize program supports vaccine education and provides free or low-cost immunizations for Texans.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 45,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 120 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans

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