Florida Has Measles, But Who Cares?

Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash This sick teddy bear may not have been vaccinated.
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Although many older people such as those born in the 1940s and 1950s lived through measles epidemics as children and survived, modern medicine regards the measles as dangerous, and possibly fatal for vulnerable children.

The U.S. declared the measles virus eradicated more than 20 years ago, but clusters of outbreaks have continued to  pop up. There’s one going on right  now in Florida.

Public health experts urge vaccination as the best form of protection.

As of Thursday, the Florida Department of Health reported nine confirmed cases in Broward County. The outbreak started at an elementary school two weeks ago. There has also been a case reported in Polk County, which is thought to be related to travel.

Florida is particularly vulnerable to contagious epidemics as it is a state with many immigrants and has international airports with many connections to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America as well as cruise ships.

Measles is very contagious and can be fatal to some people. Side effects may lead to ear infections or to inflammation of the brain.

The health department has not declared a public health emergency. State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo wrote a letter to parents of the school experiencing the outbreak that it was up to them if they wanted to send their children back to class, even if they’re not vaccinated against this virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends unvaccinated children stay home for three weeks.

Despite the CDC and state health department’s websites calling for vaccination as the best way to protect against the measles, Ladapo did not urge Floridians to get their children vaccinated.

However, vaccination for Measles, Mumps, Rubella is already mandatory to attend daycare or school in Florida.

This week, the congresswoman representing the area where the school with the measles outbreak occurred criticized the state’s surgeon general response. Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz called Ladapo grossly irresponsible.

The most recent update on the Health Department’s website is from a week ago and directed at health care providers.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease specialist at Florida International University in Miami, joined the The Florida Roundup on Friday to speak on the disease and outbreak. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

The US National Centers For Disease Control  estimates 61 million doses of the MMR vaccine were missed during 2020 to 2022, at the height of the COVID pandemic.

“And that allows for a lot more people to be susceptible just by itself and some of that wasn’t because of vaccine hesitancy, but simply the difficulty of getting to the child vaccinated during that era,” Marty said.

For an unvaccinated child, Marty said the chances of coming down with the measles if they’re exposed is somewhere between 90% and 95%. For a fully vaccinated child, the chance of having any symptoms from being infected with the measles virus is little less than 2%.

“And once you are infected with the virus, you have about a 1-in-5 chance of having a problem that’s going to lead that child to need hospitalization,” Marty said. “So this is a virus that can cause a series of problems.”

Marty said this virus targets those key medical stem cells: those cells in the bone marrow that make your red blood cells, your white blood cells, and your platelets. This can cause anemia and immune system suppression, making children susceptible to secondary infections for months afterward.

The ‘trivalent’ MMR vaccine protects against the measles, mumps, and rubella.

According to the CDC, children can get their first dose between 12 and 15 months of age, and their second dose from 4-6 years of age.

Teenagers and adults with no evidence of immunity should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

People who are currently pregnant should not get vaccinated, because the vaccine uses a live virus.

“The vaccine strain doesn’t get into the same receptors and doesn’t use the same receptors that the wild virus does. And therefore, it is mild and doesn’t and cannot cause the complications that you get from the wild virus,” Marty said.

Marty said virtually everyone before 1957 was infected with the measles, making those individuals immune. The vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1963.

She said adults vaccinated in the 1970s only got one dose, and therefore need a booster now.

Here is a summary of the symptoms of measles.

Symptoms typically appear 7-14 days after a person has been infected and include:

    • High fever
    • Cough
    • Runny nose
    • Red, watery eyes
    • Within three to five days, a red rash often develops on the face and neck, and can spread to the rest of the body.

In St. Kitts and Nevis the Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccination is given at 12 months of age, and again at 18 months.

Source: Florida Public Health.
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