Officials concerned of possible measles outbreak in future

In an article written for The Pittsburg Tribune, the author, Rick Willis, focuses on the fact that as more and more parents do not vaccinate their children, officials are getting concerned of a possible outbreak; and are therefore urging parents to vaccinate their children, especially in Pennsylvania.

The report states, “Two outbreaks of measles in Pennsylvania this year and more reported cases of the virus in the United States than at any time since 1996 have put Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on alert, and health officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated.”

Although the number of reported cases might not seem high, slowly declining rates of vaccination could result in a measles outbreak not seen in the United States for two decades, said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the acting physician general for the state Department of Health.

“If it is a vaccine-preventable disease, which measles is, children should be vaccinated,” Ostroff said.

People contract the virus by breathing infected air. Infected people are contagious before they show symptoms, which typically include fever, cough, pain, a runny nose and, eventually, a rash.

It is rarely deadly, though about one in 20 children may develop pneumonia and one in 1,000 develops a more serious infection, which can lead to brain swelling.

The United States typically has about 50 cases of measles in a year, according to the CDC. And, there have already been as many as 118 cases reported this year alone.

“That does not sound like a huge number. But with immunization levels slowly going downward, we worry about the sort of very large outbreak there was in this country in the early 1990s,” Ostroff said.

In various counties in Pennsylvania, there have been a number of outbreaks due to vacationers, or coming in contact with someone who has recently traveled.

Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh say they are on alert for the disease, something not really considered as much in the past.

“Because there have been so few cases for so many years, it’s not usually the first thing we look for when a child becomes ill. We are taking it more into account now,” said Dr. Andrew Nowalk, a Children’s Hospital pediatrician and infectious disease specialist and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.

Nowalk and Ostroff expressed concern about parental resistance to vaccinate children. Some parents object to vaccinations because of religious or personal reasons or concerns about potential side effects.

“When you get vaccine coverage below 90 percent, there will be more outbreaks,” Nowalk said.

Children who receive the MMR vaccination and get a booster shot rarely are at risk for contracting the disease, health officials said. According to the CDC, unvaccinated people accounted for 89 percent of the 118 measles cases reported this year.

“No vaccine is 100 percent, but people who have been vaccinated and still get measles have weaker versions of the virus,” Ostroff said.

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