Measles Cases Confirmed in Georgia Following Northwest Outbreak

A medical worker holds a measles-rubella (MR) vaccine at a health station in Banda Aceh in Aceh province on September 19, 2018.
CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images
PENNY STARR

The Georgia Department of Public Health (GPH) has confirmed three cases of measles in the metro Atlanta area. Two were identified on January 13 and one on January 26. All three cases were for individuals who were members of the same family and were not vaccinated, according to GPH. 

These cases follow the infection of more than two dozen people at the start of the year in the Northwest United States, the Associated Press (AP) reported:

The outbreak near Portland has sickened 35 people in Oregon and Washington since Jan. 1, with 11 more cases suspected. Most of the patients are children under 10, and one child has been hospitalized.

Health officials say the outbreak is a textbook example of why it’s critical to vaccinate against measles, which was eradicated in the U.S. after the vaccine was introduced in 1963. In recent years, however, the viral illness has popped up again from New York to California and sickened hundreds.

The AP noted that Clark County, Washington, has a vaccination rate of 78 percent, which is too low to protect those with compromised immune systems, those who cannot get vaccinated because of medical problems, or those who are too young.

Advocates of the anti-vaccine movement, which is strong in the western United States, continue to spread misinformation on social media, Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County public health director, told the AP.

“What keeps me up at night is eventually having a child die from this completely preventable situation,” Melnick said. “It’s still out there, even though it’s been debunked, that the measles vaccine results in autism.”

“That’s nonsense,” Melnick said.

Melnick shared some grim statistics: Before the measles vaccination, 400–500 people died from the highly contagious disease every year, 50,000 were hospitalized, and about 4,000 people developed brain swelling that could cause deafness. One to three of every 1,000 cases is fatal.

Although most measles cases involve young children, the infection can be extremely dangerous to pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Rubella is very dangerous for a pregnant woman and her developing baby. Anyone who is not vaccinated against rubella is at risk of getting the disease. Although rubella was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2004, cases can occur when unvaccinated people are exposed to infected people, mostly through international travel. Women should make sure they are protected from rubella before they get pregnant.

Infection with rubella virus causes the most severe damage when the mother is infected early in pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks (first trimester).

Congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) is a condition that occurs in a developing baby in the womb whose mother is infected with the rubella virus. Pregnant women who contract rubella are at risk for miscarriage or stillbirth, and their developing babies are at risk for severe birth defects with devastating, lifelong consequences. CRS can affect almost everything in the developing baby’s body.

The most common birth defects from CRS can include:

•Deafness

•Cataracts

•Heart defects

•Intellectual disabilities

•Liver and spleen damage

•Low birth weight

•Skin rash at birth

On Wednesday, fears that measles would spread throughout the population increased when officials learned that people infected with the disease had traveled to central Oregon and Hawaii, Melnick told the AP

“The revelation prompted public health officials in Oregon’s Deschutes County and in Hawaii to issue alerts, although no cases were confirmed in either location,” the AP reported.

“It raises concerns that this can go on for a long time, become geographically larger than it is and more cases over weeks and months,” Melnick said.

“There are 40 confirmed cases in the Northwest, including 38 clustered in southwest Washington, one in Portland and one in Seattle. Thirteen additional suspected cases were reported Wednesday, and some of those will likely be confirmed,” the AP reported.

In 2018, 17 outbreaks and about 350 cases of measles were confirmed in the United States.

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