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Measles outbreaks prompt NY Governor Cuomo to issue health alert

This photograph shows an infant being held by his mother, who is about to receive an intramuscular vaccination in his left arm.
This photograph shows an infant being held by his mother, who is about to receive an intramuscular vaccination in his left arm.
CDC/ Judy Schmidt

Measles cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the first four months of 2014 are at highest levels in 18 years. Nearly 23 percent of cases nationwide are from New York State. These statistics, along with an outbreak of measles last year in New York City, has prompted Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health to issue a health alert Friday reminding New Yorkers of the importance of immunizations.

Measles is highly contagious and, prior to development of effective vaccines, 48,000 Americans were hospitalized and 450-500 people died each year from the disease. The virus is spread through the air by breathing, coughing and sneezing. According to the Governor’s health alert, 90 percent of unprotected people will contract the disease when exposed.

New Yorkers that are unsure of their immunization status are urged to have their blood tested for measles immunity. Individuals born before 1957 most likely are immune, as they have lived through several measles epidemics. This 1957 rule applies to mumps as well, but not rubella. Those that were vaccinated between 1963 and 1967 may need to re-dose. Some vaccines available during those years were created from inactive viruses and are ineffective.

“While many New Yorkers have likely already received measles vaccinations, with the number of outbreaks at a higher level in years the State is taking the opportunity to urge New Yorkers check with their healthcare provider to make sure they and all of their family members’ immunizations are up-to-date.” — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Measles symptoms begin with a slight fever, cough and runny nose, usually 10 to 12 days after exposure. Those infected may experience sensitivity to light and a reddening of the eyes. White spots may form on the gums and inside of the mouth. As the disease advances, infected individuals will experience a gradual rise in body temperature to as high as 105 degrees and suffer a blotchy, red rash. Approximately 30 percent of measles cases develop complications such as pneumonia, ear infections and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can cause brain damage.

Discredited reports that vaccines can cause a child to develop autism have led many parents to refuse vaccinations for their children. While studies have disproved any link between autism and vaccinations, the belief that vaccines may be dangerous persists. The New York Department of Health stresses that vaccines are safe and failure to have your child immunized not only puts your child at risk, but puts others in danger as well.

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance policies cover vaccinations with no charge to the policyholder as a preventive health service. New Yorkers younger than 19 who are uninsured or underinsured may be eligible for free immunizations under the Vaccines for Children program. The CDC recommends children receive their first dose of the MMR vaccine at their first birthday, and a second dose anytime 28 days after the first dose. The MMR vaccine combines vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). Children younger than 12 months are generally protected by immunity passed on by their mothers.