Parents, health officials eyeing measles outbreak with concern

2011-04-13T00:20:00Z 2011-05-14T01:49:05Z Parents, health officials eyeing measles outbreak with concernHeidi Toth - Daily Herald Daily Herald
April 13, 2011 12:20 am  • 

Todd Winger was planning to take his family to a children's museum in Salt Lake during spring break.

Then four people were diagnosed with red measles and a half dozen more were suspected of having the highly contagious disease.

Instead, they played baseball at a park in Orem.

"We're just going to stay out of that area," he said. "It's not a good thing."

It's really not. Measles is not usually fatal, but it gives its victims a high fever, body aches, a cough and red, watery eyes. The trademark rash occurs several days after exposure and eventually covers the entire body. People with measles also must be quarantined for the duration of the illness, which generally lasts about two weeks, provided there are no complications.

"Measles is a serious enough disease, anyone who gets it can become critically ill and die," Dr. Joseph Miner, the executive director of the Utah County Health Department, said.

Thus far, no confirmed cases of the disease have appeared in Utah County, although it certainly is a possibility, Miner said. Also, more people are calling the health department to ask questions about the risks, the vaccine and what effects a child who is not immunized may expect to see.

Some also are bringing their older children to be vaccinated, regardless of previous objections.

"A lot of these people change their minds," Miner said. "They're counting on everyone else to be immunized, and since so many are unimmunized, they can't count on that anymore."

That is the crux of this issue. Dr. David Flinders, a general practitioner, said the measles vaccine has a 95 percent effectiveness rate. Vaccination virtually guarantees that, even if a person is exposed, he will not get sick nor become a carrier and expose others to the virus.

All four confirmed cases in Salt Lake were not vaccinated. Nonimmunized children in affected schools were notified to remain until further notice so they would not be at risk.

Utah allows parents to not vaccinate their children if they claim a philosophical objection to vaccines; about 5 percent of school-age children are not vaccinated for this reason.

"Unfortunately, vaccines are kind of a victim of their own success," Flinders said. "Most adults have never ever seen anyone who has had measles and don't realize how terribly sick they can become."

The measles vaccine was distributed in the late 1970s; since then, the incidence of the disease in the United States has almost disappeared. That is because of the vaccine, Flinders said. However, people wrongly assume that this virus has been eradicated and there is no longer any danger from measles. Or, they take the philosophical exemption knowing that their odds of contracting measles is low.

"As long as 90 percent of the population is fully immunized, they will be protected by those who are smart enough to get the vaccine," he said.

Carol Tingey's daughter is one of those who don't believe in vaccines. Tingey, of Orem, said she worries for her 1-year-old granddaughter who isn't immunized and could be at risk if the outbreak spreads.

"She fears the shot, but now we keep having these little outbreaks," Tingey said.

People might be afraid of adverse reactions to the shot, which are possible, but unlikely, Flinders said. He compared it to people who were afraid of the introduction of electricity because they might get electrocuted. That slight risk doesn't outweigh the benefits of electricity.

People who aren't vaccinated also risk infecting other people. In Salt Lake, the first person picked up the disease overseas; slight contact, even being in the same room, can transmit the disease to others who are not immunized.

"Don't gamble with your kids' health or your own health or someone else's newborn baby's health," Miner said.

Winger is being extra careful, even though his children are all vaccinated.

"I wish everybody else's were," he said.

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