Measles Cases On The Rise: What Doctors Want You To Know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that measles already reached 31 states and affected 1,241 patients in 2019. Officials warned that if the cases continue to grow, the U.S. may soon lose its measles-free status.

The CDC marked this year’s number of patients as the highest since 1992. Majority of the latest infections reportedly came from New York, which first confirmed measles in September 2018. 

If people continue to contract the virus for more than 12 months, the government might declare that the U.S. is no longer free of measles. 

“I think it’s a shame. We’ve gone so many years now -- almost 19 -- without ongoing transmission,” Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta, said. “It moves the world backwards.” 

Orenstein was among the officials who decided to give the U.S. its measles-free status in 2000. Losing such status would mean the infection has become endemic in the country. 

Experts suggested that the government try to vaccinate at least 95 percent of the population to stop measles from spreading. However, there is a growing vaccine scare in the U.S. that delays efforts to protect residents from the infection. 

What Measles Vaccines Can Do

The vaccine for measles is known to be highly effective. A single dose could give a 93 percent protection and getting two vaccine shots has been proven 97 percent effective to block the infection, according to WebMD.

Being vaccinated may also reduce the risk of serious complications linked to measles, such as brain swelling and hearing loss. The infection may continue to cause severe health problems even six to eight years after the patient’s recovery. 

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is one of the potentially deadly effects of measles. It occurs after the patient recovers from initial symptoms and can cause devastating effects. 

SSPE triggers changes to memory and behavior and affects the brain’s capability to control physical functions, like heartbeat and breathing.

Immune System Amnesia

Aside from SSPE, measles can also damage the immune system. The virus could erase the system’s memory of past infections, which would confuse the body and enable other diseases to develop. 

Experts said the immune system amnesia could continue for two to three years after measles infection. 

Measles Vaccine A health worker prepares a MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine at Hakimpara refugee camp in the Bangladeshi district of Ukhia on November 18, 2017. Two dosages are not enough to keep the disease at bay in certain cases found by an analysis of reported cases to Victoria’s Department of Health and Human service from 2008-2017. Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images