What You Need To Know About The New York City Measles Outbreak

New York State of Mind
May 21 · 5 min read

If you’ve thought of measles as purely a disease of the past, you’re wrong. Measles is currently making a comeback in New York City, and the illness has already sickened 400 people. Here’s what you need to know about the outbreak and why the disease is making a comeback:

Vaccination Rates Have Declined

More parents are choosing to not vaccinate their children, and this can leave them vulnerable to measles. Also, the fact that a larger number of parents are opting to not vaccinate takes away from the herd immunity effect, and this may increase the number of cases that occur in regions where vaccination rates tend to be low.

Doctors Aren’t Very Familiar With The Disease

Most doctors have never seen a case of measles during their career, and that means that physicians do not have practical experience with treating it, which makes it more difficult for them to treat and diagnose it effectively.

Are Doctors In Affected Regions Getting More Familiar With The Disease?

Doctors in areas that are affected by the current outbreak are beginning to gain more insight into how it affects those who catch it, and this is allowing them to diagnose the illness more effectively. For instance, a physician in New York City who has now seen cases of measles in the past is noticing the extremely cracked lips that sometimes occurs in those who are affected by the condition.

The Disease Is More Common Among Certain Populations

Certain populations within the city are more likely to catch measles due to lower vaccination rates, and one example of a population with an increased rate of the disease is ultra-Orthodox Jews.

What Happens If You Get Measles?

Individuals who develop the disease suffer from flu like symptoms and develop a rash, and in some cases, the disease can cause problems with the nervous system. These complications of the illness can have serious or even deadly effects, but fortunately, this is uncommon in individuals who do not suffer from a pre-existing condition.

How Is Measles Treated?

If someone has recently been exposed to the disease and was not vaccinated as a child, a doctor may be able to give them immune globulins to prevent the onset of the disease. If the symptoms have begun, bed rest and plenty of fluids are recommended by doctors, and it’s important to drink at least six to eight glasses of water. In addition, doctors may recommend over the counter drugs to treat the fever and muscle aches that the condition causes, and vitamin A is often recommended as well.

If you develop pneumonia, you will likely be prescribed antibiotics to treat the infection, but if the condition becomes serious enough, it’s possible that you’ll need to be hospitalized. While it is very rare to develop central nervous system complications (e.g. encephalitis), this is a particularly serious situation, and it will require hospitalization and possibly even treatment in an intensive care unit.

Do You Need To Be Quarantined If You Develop It?

Yes, people who develop measles do need to be quarantined to prevent the illness from spreading to other people, and the quarantine period is usually two or three weeks.

What Are The Long Term Effects Of Measles?

In most cases, there are no long-term effects, but if encephalitis occurs, permanent disability can result, such as blindness. Furthermore, pregnant women can suffer a miscarriage because of the illness.

What Are The Potential Short Term Complications?

In addition to encephalitis and the potential for a miscarriage in pregnant women, there are other potential complications that can warrant more intensive treatment of the disease, such as the following:

  • Severe Diarrhea: Individuals who suffer severe diarrhea during the illness may be prone to dehydration, and in some cases, this could require intravenous fluids.
  • A Decrease In Blood Platelets: This potential complication of measles can result in problems with the clotting of blood, and in rare cases, this can result in serious problems with bleeding.
  • Pneumonia: In some cases, individuals who suffer from this condition can develop problems with their breathing that can even be life threatening, and in some cases, it can require a stay in the ICU (intensive care unit) of a hospital.

What Populations Are Especially Prone To Complications From The Disease?

Individuals who suffer from cancer are more prone to the effects of the illness, and anyone who has a weakened immune system is at a higher risk of suffering complications. Premature infants are highly prone to complications from the illness, and individuals who are elderly also may be at a higher risk if they have not been vaccinated and have not contracted the illness when they were young.

How Serious Is The Current Epidemic?

The current epidemic is extremely serious among certain populations, but luckily, the overall prevalence of the disease remains quite low. However, it is unknown how the epidemic will progress as it is still ongoing, and it is possible that significantly more people could be infected as time goes on, especially among vulnerable populations.

Is It Possible To Get Measles More Than Once?

No, if you get measles or you are vaccinated for the condition, you will have an immunity that lasts for life, and therefore it’s so important to get your vaccinations, including boosters.

How Contagious Is Measles?

Doctors feel that measles is among the most contagious illnesses in existence, and if an individual has measles is in a room, there’s a good chance that up to 90% of people in that same space that haven’t been vaccinated and have not already contracted the illness in the past will catch it.

What Steps Are Being Taken To Stop The Outbreak?

There have been changes to pediatric rooms, and one of these changes has been converting the rooms to negative pressure. That means directing airflow out of the hospital, and there have been restrictions placed on the visitation of babies who are in the intensive care unit of hospitals. If an infant life in a zip code that is at an elevated risk, parents are required to show their immunity via vaccination or previous infection to visit.

Are There Other Conditions That Can Be Confused With Measles?

Yes, there are many cases where individuals, including individuals in areas that have a high incidence of the disease suffer from symptoms that may appear similar to measles but have a different condition. Here are some examples of conditions that can be mistaken for the disease:

  • Scarlet Fever: Scarlet fever is a rare childhood illness that also causes a rash and some measles like symptoms, but doctors will be able to tell the conditions apart with testing.
  • Mono: Mono also causes a rash and illness, but doctors can differentiate measles from this condition with a blood test.
  • Influenza And Other Respiratory Illnesses: Prior to the appearance of the rash, measles is easily confused with the flu and other common illnesses.
  • Reactions To Drugs: In some cases, an allergic reaction to a drug could cause a rash that appears similar to measles, but doctors will be able to tell them apart due to differences in the symptoms.
  • Other Viruses That Cause A Rash: While there are a variety of viruses that can cause a rash, the measles virus causes a distinctive rash that is identifiable by close examination from a physician. One example of a virus that produces symptoms that are similar to measles until closer examination is the roseola virus.
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