So far this year, 84 cases of measles in 14 states have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most of them stemming from an ongoing, large, multistate outbreak linked to the Disneyland theme parks in California.
“We have already had a very large number of measles cases—as many cases as we typically have all year in typical years,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, an assistant surgeon general in the U.S. Public Health Service and director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a Jan. 29 press conference.
The CDC cannot say for certain exactly how the outbreak began, but the assumption is that someone got infected overseas, visited the parks and spread the disease to others. What the CDC is certain of, however, is that those infected in the United States have exposed others in settings such as school, day cares, emergency departments, outpatient clinics and airplanes.
So how can you reduce the likelihood of an outbreak affecting your facility? The “take-home messages” from Schuchat’s remarks:
- Encourage vaccination. The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is about 97 percent effective when people get it in two doses as intended, Schuchat said. Ensure that your employees have been vaccinated and educate them as to the importance of vaccinating their children. Also share with patients’ family members and other visitors the importance of vaccination. “Maintaining high vaccination coverage is very important,” Schuchat said, “and it’s the best protection we have against disease outbreaks.”
- For adults who aren’t sure whether they’ve already been vaccinated, get vaccinated. “For adults out there, if you’re not sure if you have had measles vaccine or not or if you have ever had measles, we urge you to contact your doctor or nurse and get vaccinated,” Schuchat said. “There is no harm in getting another MMR vaccine if you have already been vaccinated. I do want to remind you that unvaccinated people put themselves and others at risk for measles and for complications.”
- Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of measles and what to do if you spot them. Many caregivers may not have seen cases of measles in their lifetimes, Schuchat said, because the disease’s prevalence has been relatively low since the vaccine was introduced. “I’m urging all health professionals to ‘think measles,’ she said. “Healthcare professionals do need to know the guidelines for infection control and reporting of measles, and they should [make sure] that their patients are getting the best protection possible, which is on-time MMR vaccination to protect them from acquiring this virus whether at home or abroad.”
- If you suspect that you or someone you know has the measles, seek medical attention. “If people are having fever or rash, they need to let their doctor or nurse know about that, and clinicians caring for people with fever or rash need to ‘think measles’ at this point and take a travel history and take appropriate steps. I think people really need to know that you can get measles anywhere. It’s invisible.”
- If you’re sick in any way, stay at home to avoid spreading illness. “We recommend you not…get on an airplane if you’re sick or having fever,” Schuchat said.
The CDC has posted information about measles for healthcare professionals on its website.