PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A big measles outbreak in Europe has health officials watching for any concerning patterns here.
“Measles is one of the conditions we keep close tabs on. It’s very infectious, it spreads very easily,” says Dr. Ron Voorhees, an epidemiologist at the Allegheny County Health Department.
Already, there have been 89 cases in the U.S. this year. Usually, because of vaccinations, the whole nation will only have 50.
“We’ve been very successful at controlling it, so the cases that do occur now are people that are coming in from other countries,” explains Dr. Voorhees.
Europe has had 6,500 cases in 33 countries.
“Locally we haven’t had a case since 2009, when we had an outbreak where we had five cases and we were able to stop it before it turned into a larger epidemic.” he says.
Ninety percent of people exposed to someone with the measles will catch it. The virus spreads through the air and can linger for up to two hours.
“It’s typically spread through respiratory droplets. And it’s extremely contagious,” says Dr. Andrew Sahud, an infectious diseases specialist at Allegheny General Hospital.
An actual infection with the measles, in some cases, can lead to brain disease with unconsciousness and convulsions and you can see an abnormal brain wave tracing with it.
For every thousand children who get the measles, one or two will die.
“Most of the time it’s due to people who have either refused the vaccine, or for whatever reason were not vaccinated,” says Dr. Sahud of the cases in the U.S.
As for adults, most have been immunized. “It’s typically given in two doses,” he continues, “and for those who have only received one dose, there is the potential for waning immunity.”
Even if you only got one dose, with so few cases across the country, the risk is low.
“Even if that’s higher than what it typically is, that’s still a pretty small number. So it’s hard to be alarmed about that,” says Dr. Sahud.