GLASGOW — Nationwide, from Jan. 1 to April 26, there were 704 individual cases of measles confirmed in 22 states.
Included among those 22 states is Kentucky.
Statewide there have been two confirmed cases in 2019 and both were in the Barren River region.
“They were children who were unvaccinated who traveled to an endemic area or endemic country,” said Layne Blackwell, regional epidemiologist with the Barren River District Health Department in Bowling Green.
Measles is caused by a virus, which is airborne.
“It is spread through droplets. Those droplets can stay in a room for about two hours after a person leaves the room,” Blackwell said.
The droplets are released into the air from a person who is coughing, sneezing or even breathing.
“It is very contagious,” she said. “Nine out of 10 people who are exposed and are susceptible will get sick.”
Symptoms of measles are a fever, a runny nose, a cough and pink eyes.
“Usually about two to three days after the fever starts individuals will develop the characteristic measles rash,” Blackwell said. “And that’s a rash that starts from the top of the head and works its way down the body. It resolves in the same fashion.”
People who think they are developing symptoms of measles should call their health care provider before making a visit, so they will know there is a person coming in who has symptoms that are consistent with measles.
“Let them know if you’ve had any kind of travel and they can take appropriate precautions to keep other people from getting sick, and that can include letting you in through a separate door, putting a mask on a patient, limiting exposure with other people who might be susceptible,” Blackwell said.
There is not a specific treatment for measles.
“Measles can cause complications that may need treatment specific to their problem,” she said.
Complications may include ear infections, pneumonia, diarrhea and encephalitis.
Because measles is caused by a virus it is not treatable by antibiotics, Blackwell said.
“The main thing with measles is prevention and that would be completing your two dose series of the MMR vaccine, which is measles, mumps and rubella,” she said.
The first dose of the MMR vaccine can be given to toddlers who are between the ages of 12 to 15 months.
The second does is at 4 to 6 years, which she said provides 97 percent effective rate for the vaccine.
“If teens or adults are unsure of their vaccine status then they should check with their provider and get vaccinated,” she said. “The CDC also recommends any children from the age of 6 months to 11 months who are traveling internationally to some of these countries where measles are endemic they can go ahead get one dose of the vaccine before they travel. That lowers their risk of exposure.”
There are some parents who have opted not to allow their children to take the MMR vaccine for fear it may cause them to develop an intellectual disability, such as autism.
“There are numerous studies that have disproven that,” Blackwell said.
Children are, however, required to have the MMR vaccine before they start school.
“In the state of Kentucky, two doses of MMR vaccine are required for children before they enter kindergarten,” she said.
As for whether children can be admitted to school without the MMR vaccine, Blackwell said that is a school by school call.
According to state law, all parents and guardians shall have children in their custody and/or care immunized by diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, pertussis, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza disease in accordance with testing and immunization schedules established by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
“I believe the law says students are allowed two weeks after enrollment to submit all documentation relevant to health and immunization records,” said Cortni Crews, assistant superintendent of Barren County Schools in an email to the Glasgow Daily Times.
The Glasgow Independent Schools requires students to undergo preventive health care as required by Kentucky Administrative Regulations, and that immunization certificates be on file within two weeks of student enrollment.
Glasgow ISD also requires home-schools students to have current immunization certificates prior to attending one or more in-school classes or participating in sports or other school-sponsored extra-curricular activities, according to the school district’s policy.
Students who attend the Caverna Independent School District are given a notice they are in violation for not having their immunizations up to date and are typically given 15 to 30 days to get it completed.
“We have a form that goes home with each student that needs immunizations (updated) or are not in compliant,” said Cornelius Faulkner, superintendent of Caverna ISD, in an email to the Daily Times.
The MMR vaccine is available at local health departments in the Barren River Region for children and can be made available for adults, but adults need to call in advance to make sure the vaccine is on hand, she said.
Measles is considered to be a serious illness.
“It’s not just a rash. It can cause other severe complications particularly for people who are immune-compromised or for infants and small children who can’t protect themselves with the vaccine,” Blackwell said. “For people who can’t get vaccinated themselves, it can be especially dangerous.
“Not only are we protecting ourselves when we get vaccinated, we are protecting our whole community.”