A measles outbreak is occurring in Ohio. Experts warn that this will not be the last

A measles outbreak is occurring in Ohio. Experts warn that this will not be the last

In November, as an increase in the number of cases for RSV, flu and COVID worried parents across the country, parents in Ohio were faced with another, unexpected threat of their own children’s health: the measles.

Ohio’s Columbus Public Health (CPH) and Franklin County Public Health (FCPH) announced one week in November that they were investigating an outbreak of measles — four children at the time, linked to a local children’s facility. Measles, which is easily spread by coughing, talking or being in the same room, is highly contagious. Indeed, measles is estimated to infect 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed. It is also amazingly addictive: only one virus, SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19) is known more contagious than measles.

Most adults and older children are vaccinated against measles, but the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is not offered to children under one year of age. This means that infants are often the most sensitive.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, thousands of deaths from measles were recorded. But by 2000, measles was declared eliminated from the United States, and no deaths were reported until 2015, when a woman in Washington became the first die in 12 years due to complications from measles.

“This is certainly more significant than we’ve seen in years.”

Since then, there has been an overall significant resurgence in measles incidence rates across the US – such as the latest outbreak in Ohio. More than a dozen unvaccinated Ohio children were initially infected, nine of whom were hospitalized. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) responded and deployed a small team to help fight the outbreak. But by December, the number of infected children had risen to 59. Recently, as of January 6, the number of measles cases had risen to 82; Of these, 33 were hospitalized.

“Most of the measles outbreaks we’ve had have been very limited to just one or two cases,” Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Davis, told Salon. “This is certainly more significant than we have seen in years.

According to data collected by Ohio Disease Reporting System23 patients were younger than one year, and 74 patients were not vaccinated against measles. Four sick children were partially vaccinated, and the vaccination status of the remaining four sick children is unknown.

Doctors recommend that children be vaccinated against measles in two doses: the first dose between 12 and 15 months of age, and the second between the ages of four and six. The reported numbers are worrying because most of these children are not vaccinated at all. A single dose of the measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective in preventing measles; two doses are about 97 percent effective.

According to CDC, an estimated 90 percent of children in the U.S. are vaccinated against measles. But why are there more and more groups of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children? The primary reason is misinformation about the vaccine, a problem that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. While parental vaccine hesitancy is typically thought to be prevalent in states like California, which infamously experienced a measles outbreak in 2014, the movement is also gaining momentum in the Midwest.

“We have some pretty active anti-vaccine groups here in Ohio,” said Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University’s College of Public Health. he told NBC News. “I’m really concerned that this is something that has become more entrenched here.”

Blumberg told Salon that there are two major false claims surrounding the measles vaccine for children.

“One is that they’re concerned about the adverse effects of the measles vaccine itself, and the most common thing people talk about is autism — and that’s been thoroughly debunked,” Blumberg said.

“Unfortunately, with the way social media is set up these days, the guardrails have been taken down and there’s a lot of misinformation that goes completely unchecked.”

Indeed, research published in 1998 by a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield claims to have found evidence of a correlation between childhood measles vaccines and autism. That study has been since completely discredited. Wakefield is also banned from practicing medicine in the UK.

The Journal of American Medicine recently wrote that “receiving the MMR [measles, mumps, rubella] the vaccine was not associated with an increased risk of ASD, [Autism spectrum disorder].”

Blumberg said there’s another misinformation that’s becoming more popular: that measles isn’t particularly dangerous.

“Although most people recover, some children die from measles or may be left with blindness, brain damage or other problems,” Blumberg said. “Measles can result in pneumonia, can weaken the immune system and make children vulnerable to secondary infections, so they can be very serious.”

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Blumberg said there needs to be consistent public health messaging, but he believes that’s harder to do today with social media.

“Unfortunately, with the way social media is set up these days, the guardrails have been taken down and there’s a lot of misinformation that goes completely unchecked,” he said. “I really encourage anyone who has any questions about vaccinations to really trust their doctor, talk to them – they are an important source of reliable information, not an influencer or a celebrity.”

As for the outbreak in Ohio, it appears to be slowing down — but public health officials worry that this is not a fluke, but may be the new normal, not just in the United States but around the world.

“The record number of undervaccinated and measles-susceptible children demonstrates the profound damage that immunization systems have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, Ph.D. “Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunization programs, but public health officials can use the outbreak response to identify at-risk communities, understand the causes of undervaccination, and help provide locally tailored solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all.”

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