One of the greatest medical fears of parents in the early 20th century was a child with measles, a time when some 6,000 deaths a year were caused by the easily spread virus.
By the 1950s, between three and four million people a year were infected, with close to 500 deaths and 1,000 cases of resulting encephalitis that caused the brain to swell, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
While the first vaccine against became available in 1963, virtually eliminating measles outbreaks, there is again concern. The CDC reports that with fewer children being vaccinated today than years ago, there is a threat that herd immunity to measles will no longer prevail.
“An estimated 92% of American adolescents aged 13 to 17 were vaccinated against measles in 2019,” the agency’s website states. “The CDC notes that a vaccination coverage rate of 95% with both doses of the vaccine is necessary to protect communities from outbreaks.”
But on Jan. 18, Philadelphia reported its ninth cases of measles over the previous two weeks, and on Jan. 13, the Camden County Health Department reported a case of measles whose source it is trying to identify.
“We are working with the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) to investigate this situation,” county health officer Paschal Nwako said. “Given the serious consequences of measles and the ease with which it can be spread, we will be engaged in a large investigative effort centered on locating and ensuring the immune status of those individuals who may have been in contact with this patient.
“In the meantime,” he added, “we urge all residents to be vigilant of symptoms and to make sure they are up to date on their MMR vaccine, because that is the best way we can protect ourselves and others from this disease.”
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads easily when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes, and can cause severe disease, complications and even death.
“Measles transmission is primarily spread person to person through respiratory droplets,” Nwako explained. “Airborne transmission has been documented in closed areas for up to two hours after a person with measles has occupied the area.”
Because measles is so contagious, it’s important to identify anyone who may have been exposed who does not have immunity. Potentially infected individuals could develop symptoms as late as Feb. 2, he said.
The county health department is working with its health-care partners to identify and notify anyone who has had exposure. The county resident whose infection was reported on Jan. 13 visited two area health-care facilities in the first week of this month, officials said.
That person visited Cooper University Healthcare Pediatrics in Voorhees from 11:35 a.m. to 2:32 p.m. on Jan. 5, went to the emergency department at Jefferson South Jersey Stratford Hospital at 8 p.m. on Jan. 8, and went again at 12:38 a.m. the following day.
Individuals who have not had measles in the past or have not received the vaccine can get the disease. Symptoms appear around a week or two after infection and include high fever, cough, runny nose, red watery eyes or pinkeye and a rash that normally starts three to five days after symptoms begin.
The rash usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet. Those exhibiting symptoms or have been exposed to someone with measles are urged to contact their primary care physician to get tested and report exposure.
For any general questions, call the Camden County Health Department at (856) 549-0530.