The New Jersey Department of Health is currently investigating the state's first suspected case of the measles, which involves an unvaccinated 1 year old from Jersey City. According to Department of Health spokesperson Donna Leusner, the patient has recovered. But it has yet to be seen how many individuals were (and will be) exposed to the virus through contact with the baby.
Since the December 2014 measles outbreak in Disneyland, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 121 cases in people from Washington, DC and 17 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington, and it’s spreading. The majority of those who contracted the measles in Disneyland were not vaccinated, and while the outbreak’s source case has not yet been identified, the likely culprit is a Disney tourist from overseas. Patients are as old as 70 and as young as 7 months, which is particularly scary because kids under the age of 1 are too young for the vaccine.
According to the CDC’s National Immunization Survey, 95.6 percent of New Jersey children ages 19 to 35 months receive the MMR vaccination—this is the third highest rate of any state. Despite Governor Chris Christie’s recent statements supporting parents’ rights to choose whether their children are vaccinated (a position that President Obama strongly disagrees with), New Jersey maintains a strict MMR immunization mandate that requires kids receive a first dose between 12 and 15 months and a second dose between 4 and 6 years.
Here’s what you need to know about staying healthy.
1. It’s really easy to catch the measles
The measles is a highly infectious virus more contagious than influenza, polio or smallpox. It’s airborne, so it spreads through coughing and sneezing and can survive on a surface or in any air space for up to two hours. According to the CDC, 90 percent of people without immunity will catch the measles if they come in contact with the virus.
The MMR vaccine is extremely effective, but 2 to 5 percent of people will not develop complete immunity after just one dose of the vaccine, so they can still contract measles (after two doses, that percentage shrinks to 1 percent). Plus, babies under 1 can’t get the vaccine yet, so they’re extremely vulnerable.
And it’s easy to infect others before you even know you’re sick—An infected person can infect others up to four days before (and four days after) the tell-tale rash symptom appears.
2. The measles can be difficult to diagnose
Measles symptoms present themselves in three distinct phases:
Seven to 14 days after exposure:
· High fever
· Runny nose
· Red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis)
Two to three days after first phase:
· Tiny white spots (Koplik spots) in mouth
Three to five days after first phase:
· Red rash (flat red spots and small raised bumps) spreading from the face’s hairline down to the feet
· High fever (104° or higher)
Because the trademark rash does not manifest until 10 to 19 days after exposure, many people mistake their symptoms for the flu.
3. The vaccine is highly effective
Not only is the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine extremely safe, but it’s also extremely effective. Before the immunization was licensed in 1963, approximately three to four million Americans were infected annually. Currently, there are typically only 100 cases each year—that’s a more than 99 percent reduction in cases. Of those vaccinated, 95 (after one dose) to 99 (after two doses) percent are immune to the virus.
If you were born before the MMR vaccine’s introduction, you’re probably immune to the virus because you likely were exposed to the measles as a child. And if you were born after, you were almost certainly vaccinated. The group of people who are currently most vulnerable to contracting the measles is kids under the age of 1, since they are too young for the immunization.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids receive two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first between the ages of 12 and 15 months (or at 6 months, if traveling internationally) and the second between 4 and 6 years old.
4. The measles can have serious complications, including death
While the measles can be serious for all age groups, kids younger than 5 years old are most likely to suffer from complications. According to the CDC:
· One in every 20 kids with measles get pneumonia (the most common cause of death from the virus in young children)
· One in every 1,000 kids with measles will get encephalitis (swelling of the brain), which can lead to convulsions, deafness and mental retardation
· One to two in every 1,000 kids with measles will die
5. It’s eradicated in the U.S., but it can come back.
In 2000, the U.S. announced that it had officially eliminated measles. However, because the virus is still common throughout Africa, Asia and Europe, it does occasionally make its way back into the U.S.
In 2014, for example, 644 cases of measles were reported in 27 states as a result of a major outbreak in the Philippines spreading to the U.S.