National Measles Outbreaks Cause Concern

More measles cases have been reported in the United States in the first seven months of 2008 than in any entire year since 1996, according to a report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reported 131 cases in the U.S. between January 1 and July 31 of this year.

The upsurge in cases resulted primarily from parents’ refusal to vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons.

Of the 131 cases: eight patients were foreign visitors; nine were U.S. residents who had traveled abroad; and 99 patients were U.S. residents infected by the 17 international related cases.

In the U.S., the majority of these cases has come from states that allow philosophical or religious exemptions to vaccinations – Illinois, New York, Washington, Arizona and California. Because it is highly infectious, measles is consistently one of the first diseases to reappear when immunization coverage rates fall. In Mississippi, only medical exemptions are allowed; at this time there are 54 Mississippians who have been granted this exemption.

Mississippi has not had any reported cases of measles since 1992. According to the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), the state’s measles vaccination coverage among school children (K-12) is well above the U.S. national rate. The U.S. average for school year 2006-2007 was 95.6 percent, while Mississippi’s rate was 99.7 percent. Among children in Mississippi in licensed child care centers or Head Start, 98.7 percent of two-year-olds had been vaccinated against measles.

“That’s the good news,” said State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson. “But these national cases and outbreaks show that measles can and still does occur in the U.S. When parents choose not to vaccinate their children, they put others at risk, including children under 12 months who have not yet been vaccinated, children and adults with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients, and most importantly, even some children who have been fully vaccinated against measles.”

Thompson pointed out that two doses of measles vaccine are 99 percent effective against measles, but cautioned, “That means one in a hundred, or about 5,000 Mississippi children who have been vaccinated against measles, are still susceptible. An unvaccinated child poses a risk to others, even those vaccinated.”

According to the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Practitioners, all children ( unless medically exempted) should receive a dose of the measles vaccine (MMR) at 12-15 months old and a second dose of the measles vaccine at four to six years old. Children under 12 months traveling internationally should receive their first dose at six months.

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