Measles outbreak prompts outreach effort

HORNELL — The region's healthcare partners are hopeful that an information campaign can stem a disease outbreak.

On Thursday, St. James Hospital in Hornell, alongside other hospitals in the University of Rochester Medicine network like Wellsville and Dansville, released a video pleading with parents to protect their children from measles.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus, spreading through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Typical symptoms include fever, rash, cough, conjunctivitis or runny nose. However, complications like diarrhea, pneumonia, encephalitis and seizures can result in death.

Cases have been diagnosed in 10 states so far, including New York, according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracking.

The video released on Thursday features several pediatricians from the various facilities with a focused message that immunizations for measles, influenza and whooping cough save lives.

“I know, as a community, we can lessen the chance that children from getting this terrible disease by making sure we vaccinate those children who can be vaccinated,” said Dr. Elizabeth Murray.

“As a pediatrician and a mom, I fear influenza, it kills healthy children every year. I fear whooping cough and measles, but these diseases are preventable with vaccinations,” Dr. Amanda Knapp agreed.

“I have seen children die from these illnesses. Any child who dies of a vaccine preventable illness is one too many,” said Dr. Ed Lewis.

All the doctors attested that they and their own children are all vaccinated.

“Our goal as pediatricians is preventive care, and the best thing you can do for your children is to get them vaccinated,” Dr. Jessica Kleinberg urged.

CDC recommends children get two doses of MMR vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12-15 months, and the second dose at ages 4-6. Teens and adults should also be up to date on their MMR vaccination.

The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93 percent effective.

For school age children, parents should remember compliance with New York State immunization requirements is mandatory for school enrollment.

Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3-4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of these, approximately 500,000 cases were reported each year to CDC; of these, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles. Since then, widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 99 percent reduction in measles cases compared with the pre-vaccine era, according CDC.

While young children tend to be the most vulnerable, young adults at college, international travelers, healthcare personnel and women of child-bearing age, are urged to get vaccinated to discourage the spread of the disease.

The vaccine is not for everyone. People who may be prone to an allergic reaction, those who are already sick, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, a history of cancer, or those recently had other vaccines within four weeks should wait until their condition clears or consult with their physician.

While no cases have been reported locally, onging cases are in nearby Monroe County. According to the New York State Department of Public Health, the area also had a recent brush with the disease last May, when international travelers with the disease passed through the area en route to Niagara Falls.

Gail Wechsler, Public Health Program Coordinator, said that the outbreak should be taken seriously. 

"Measles is highly contagious. If you're in the same room as someone with measles and they cough or sneeze, you certainly could get it," she said, urging everyone, adults included, to get vaccinated.