Example of a measles rash

Public Health addresses measles and the importance of vaccinations

There have been 154 people from 17 states and Washington, DC, reported to have measles to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from Jan. 1-Feb. 20. Of the 154 reported cases, 118 were part of the ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to Disneyland in California earlier this year.

According to the CDC, “The United States experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 644 cases from 27 states reported to the CDC’s National Center Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). This is the greatest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000.”

Currently, Wisconsin has not had a confirmed case of measles, but the CDC map of the measles outbreak shows Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan each have had 1-9 cases. “We are totally surrounded,” said Waushara County Public Health Officer/Director Patti Wohlfeil, BCRN, MPA.     

Due to the number of cases and how rare it is, Wohlfeil confirmed testing has been done in counties across Wisconsin. 

“Anytime there’s an increase in cases happening in either the area or surrounding area, physicians knowing that will start looking at anything that has signs and symptoms close,” said Wohlfeil. “The thing with measles is it happens so little in Wisconsin and the United States, we don’t know what it looks like anymore.”

What is measles?

The measles is a fever/rash disease that incubates in people and spreads very quickly. “It is a very contagious disease; it is like 90 percent contagious,” said Wohlfeil.

Symptoms of measles according to the CDC include a high fever, cough, running nose, red, watery eyes, and a blotchy, red rash between 3-5 days after symptoms begin that begins at the hairline and extends all over the body.

“A person is contagious four days prior to four days after the rash appears,” explained Wohlfeil. “There is the scary part, the four days prior.”

According to the CDC, complications from the measles can include: ear infections; bronchial pneumonia; croup; diarrhea; encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, which often results in permanent brain damage and occurs in 1 out of every 1,000 cases; death, usually from respiratory, neurological complications, 1-2 children out of 1,000, with the fatality rate increasing in children under 5 years old and immunocompromised children.

In Wohlfeil’s 35-year career in the medical field she has only seen two c ases of measles, one in the 1980s the other in the 1990s. 

Since Wohlfeil wasn’t working in public health at the time of the first case, she was unfamiliar with how the child contracted the disease, but in the case of the 1990s, Wohfeil found the children were unvaccinated and imported. 

“I was in Waupaca County at the time, and then they came to school and the kids they made sick were unvaccinated people because the parent’s refused to vaccinate their children. Refused,” she said. 

Importance of vaccinations

The measles has been a recommended vaccination for children since it was first administered in 1963. The CDC advises children should be given their first vaccination at 12-15 months with a second vaccination at 4-6 years old. 

Vaccinations are the best way to prevent the disease from spreading. “If I had measles or if I had been vaccinated against the measles, my immunity gets passed on to my children when they are born and it tends to last about 12 months,” explains Wohlfeil. “So if I vaccinated that child under 12 months, sometimes that immunity actually kills the vaccine off. That is why we don’t vaccinate until 12-15 months.”

Due to the increase number of measles cases, Wohlfeil encourages parents not to wait to get their children vaccinated. “With an outbreak like this, I would vaccinate as soon as I can, which is 12 months. I wouldn’t wait until 15 months. Even though there have been no diagnosed cases in Wisconsin, why would you wait?”


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