MN measles outbreak puts the focus on immunizations

MARSHALL — We may not see cases of diseases like measles very often in Minnesota. But that doesn’t mean measles isn’t out there — and it’s important to make sure children are vaccinated against it, said Dr. Piyush Singh.

“It’s not a benign disease. The good thing is, it is preventable,” said Singh, a pediatrician at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.

Recent events in Minnesota are calling attention to the need for measles vaccinations. A measles outbreak first reported last week in Hennepin County has affected 12 people so far, all unvaccinated children, the Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday. All of the reported measles cases are in children between the ages of 1 and 5 years, the MDH said. All were from Minnesota Somali families.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Thursday that public health officials have asked more than 200 people to quarantine themselves if they had possibly been exposed to the virus.

“One of the things about measles is it’s really infectious,” and easily spreads from person to person, Singh said Thursday. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles is so contagious that a person who isn’t immune has a 90 percent chance of being infected if they are close to a person who has measles.

Many of the cases of measles reported in Minnesota in recent years have come from someone traveling from another country.

“World travel is more common now,” Singh said, and in some parts of the world, measles is still a common disease. Over the past 20 years, a total of 23 cases of measles were reported where a Minnesotan was exposed to the disease outside of the U.S.

Measles is a serious disease, Singh said. It can be deadly, and it can cause complications like ear infections, pneumonia or encephalitis, a condition the MDH says can cause permanent brain damage. Singh said around 1 in 1,000 people with measles develop encephalitis.

“That’s pretty serious,” he said.

A big part of the reason why measles has become rare in the U.S. is because of vaccinations, Singh said. People who are immunized against measles are much less likely to get the disease, and help keep measles outbreaks from spreading. It also helps protect people who can’t get a measles vaccination for medical reasons, like children being treated for cancer, he said.

“There’s both a personal responsibility, and a social responsibility,” to be immunized, Singh said.

The vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) is usually given to children when they are between the ages of 12 and 15 months, with a booster shot when they are 4 years old, Singh said. There are some other situations where a person could be vaccinated against measles. Singh recommended that people talk with their health care provider about immunizations before traveling internationally, or if they have any questions about whether they should be vaccinated.

Talking to your health care provider is also a good way to get reliable information about vaccinations, Singh said.

Measles symptoms include a high fever, and a rash that spreads from the face to the rest of the body. If you or your child has been exposed to measles, the MDH recommends you call your doctor right away.