Tag Archives: measles

The Disneyland Measles Outbreak: What you Need to Know

By ThinkReliability Staff

About 100 people, including 5 Disney theme park employees, have been infected with measles after an outbreak centering around the Disney theme parks in California. According to Disney, those 5 employees have returned to work, along with other exposed employees who have proved immunity against the disease. Because the Disney theme parts are so popular with people all over the world, measles has now been found in at least 10 other counties and 5 other states in the U.S. Says Dr. James Cherry, pediatric infectious diseases expert at UCLA, “Disneyland – this is the ideal scenario. This is sort of the perfect storm. People go to Disneyland, and they went from all different counties and all different states.”

Why measles, and why now?

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there were an average of 88 cases a year of measles between 2001 and 2013. (Measles was declared eliminated in the US in 2000.) In 2014, there were 644 cases in 23 separate outbreaks.   Although measles is eliminated in the US, “Travelers to areas where measles is endemic can bring measles back to the US, resulting in limited domestic transmission of measles,” according to a California Department of Public Health statement.

Once measles has entered an area, it can spread quickly. Says Matt Zahn, Orange County Health Care Agency medical director, “Measles spreads very easily by air and by direct contact. Simply being in the same room with someone who has measles is sufficient to become infected.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says “Measles is so contagious, that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.” Additionally, the measles virus can remain “active and contagious on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours,” says the CDC. That 90% makes measles “one of the most infectious or transmissible viruses that we’re aware of,” says a Cody Meissner, a professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Decreasing vaccination levels in Orange County, where the outbreak is centered, are fueling the spread of the disease. In 2006, 95% of California kindergartners were fully vaccinated for measles. Now, only 92.6% are. Local officials say the outbreak involves a significant number of people who were not immunized, either by choice or because they are too young (measles vaccines are administered starting at 12 months old) or who have other health issues precluding vaccination.

Vaccination rates of the MMR vaccine (which includes immunization against measles) have been dropping, due to increasing concerns about side effects from vaccines and decreasing concerns about the disease itself. (Click here to read our previous blog about this issue.) Says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “The development of the measles vaccination and the elimination of measles from this country several years ago, until it bounced back no with these outbreaks, was really a triumph in medical public health endeavor. Good vaccinations, in some respects paradoxically, are victims of their own success. Now that we don’t see a lot of measles, the scare of the difficulty and the seriousness of it is not on people’s radar screen. It gets back on their radar screen when you see what is going on right now throughout the country, which could be completely avoidable if people had vaccinated their children.”

Who is at risk?

According to Orange County Health Agency Spokesperson Deanne Thompson, “It is at large in the community now, and particularly infants too young to be immunized, people with other health conditions and, of course, people who aren’t immunized need to be very concerned. [They] really should rethink that and consider getting vaccinated.”

Anyone who has not been vaccinated for measles is particularly at risk, and California state officials have warned those who have not been vaccinated or are otherwise immune to measles to stay away from the theme parks. It is possible that those who have received the vaccine can also get the disease, though it is far less likely.

What should you do?

“The best way to prevent measles and its spread is to get vaccinated,” says Dr. Ron Chapman, director of California Department of Public Health. If that isn’t possible, at this point, it is recommended to stay away from the Disney theme parks in California until the outbreak is over. If you are taking your baby out of the country, the CDC recommends vaccination at 6 months for measles. If your child does get the measles, keep in mind that’s it not something that doctors today have seen frequently, or possibly at all. The CDC is making an effort to educate physicians. Says Jane Seward, the deputy director of the Division of Viral Diseases for the CDC, “We’ve really tried to hammer home the message that if you see somebody with a febrile rash illness, ask them if they’ve gone overseas, ask them about measles in their community, and ask them about their vaccination status. Think of measles.”

To view a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, of this outbreak, click on “Download PDF” above.  To learn more about this issue, click here.

RISK: Vaccines vs. Disease

By ThinkReliability Staff

Although endemic transmission of measles has been considered “interrupted by vaccination” in the United States, a recent measles outbreak has brought to the forefront the risks of not getting vaccinated.  A member of a church in Texas, who had not received the full measles vaccination, traveled to Indonesia, an area where measles is still endemic.  The disease, which is easily spread in close contact, then infected at least 20 other members of his church, which has concerns about the risks of vaccination, especially bundled vaccinations like the MMR (measles/ mumps/ rubella) vaccine.

In recent years, people have been increasingly concerned about the risks of vaccination.  One of the main concerns with the MMR vaccine is its purported link to autism (which was first mentioned in a 1998 study that has been mostly discredited).  There are, of course, risks to vaccination for any disease.  According to the CDC, risks from the MMR vaccine include mild problems, such as fever (up to 1 person out of 6), mild rash (up to 1 person out of 20) and very rare severe problems, such as allergic reactions (which occur in less than 1 out of a million doses).

However, as the CDC notes “The risk of the MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.  Getting the MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.”  This brings us to the other side of the equation.  People who do not get vaccinated for these diseases face the risks of getting the disease.  According to Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “There are only two ways you can develop specific immunity, either be infected by the natural virus or be immunized.  A choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice, It’s a choice to take a different and more serious risk.”

Because transmission of measles had been considered effectively stopped in the US, not vaccinating may have seemed like a minor risk.  After all, there are some people who cannot receive the vaccine.  This includes young children, pregnant women, and those who may be suffering from other health concerns.  These people have generally been protected by “herd immunity”.   This refers to the unlikelihood of getting measles when a very high percentage of the population is vaccinated against it.

However, in recent years, the number of people choosing not to get vaccinated has been increasing.  Sometimes these people are clustered geographically, such as within a church that has expressed its concerns about vaccinations (as in the recent outbreak in Texas).  When unvaccinated persons travel to an area that has not made as much progress towards eradicating disease, the likelihood of disease spreading is much higher.

This is true for other diseases as well.  The Texas Department of State Health Services has recently released a health alert regarding vaccination against pertussis (whooping cough) after more than 2,000 cases this year, including two deaths of infants too young to be vaccinated..  Says Dr. Lisa Cornelius, the Department’s infectious diseases medical officer, “This is extremely concerning.  If cases continue to be diagnosed at the current rate, we will see the most Texas cases since the 1950s.”

Although the potential risk of a vaccine may seem frightening, it is important to ensure that everyone in your family is fully vaccinated.  Not only will this provide the best protection for each of you, it will also provide protection to those members of your community who cannot be vaccinated, and limit the spread of these diseases.  Some communities are experiencing this the hard way. The Texas church involved in the outbreak has begun offering vaccination clinics for its members to attempt and stop the outbreak and protect against another one.

You can view the Outline and Cause Map discussing this issue by clicking “Download PDF” above.