Protect yourself and your family from measles and polio

Health officials note an increased number of measles and polio cases during 2014 and recommend steps to prevent contracting these serious diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that their National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) confirmed a record-breaking 593 cases of measles have occurred in the United States since January 1. The affected individuals live in 21 different states, with the 18 largest outbreaks accounting for 89percent of the total number of cases confirmed this year. As the United States formally declared in 2000 that the country had eliminated measles, how is it that so many cases of measles are still occurring in many different locations?

It happens primarily one of two way-either an unvaccinated American is traveling abroad and contracts measles, or a foreign visitor arrives in the U.S. experiencing an active case of measles. A highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus, measles is spread through the air by coughing, sneezing, and breathing. Common symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough and a rash that generally covers the entire body. The period of contagion can range from four days before to four days after the rash appears. If a person is exposed and is not protected, they will likely get the disease. Experts estimate 90 percent of those in close contact with an infected person will get measles if unvaccinated. Approximately 30 percent of individuals contracting the virus will suffer one or more serious complication including pneumonia, ear infections, and diarrhea. Childhood under 5 years of age and adults are at higher risk for measles-related complications, hospitalization and death. Health official estimate that for every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die and another will develop encephalitis, inflammation of the brain which can result in deafness and mental retardation. Measles is also very dangerous for those who are pregnant and may cause miscarriage, premature birth, or low birth weight. Before the measles vaccine was available in the U.S., measles caused 48,000 hospitalizations, resulted in brain damage or deafness for nearly 1,000 individuals and resulted in close to 500 deaths annually.

Though measles is very rare in those countries with a high rate of vaccination, health officials estimate that worldwide 20 million cases and 164,000 deaths occur annually with more than half these deaths happening in India. Currently, the Philippines is in the midst of a major outbreak and is suspected to be the source of many of the cases being brought into the U.S. this year. Nearly 380 members of Amish communities in Ohio contracted measles after men from one of their communities returned in early spring from a mission trip to build houses in the Philippines. The Amish generally do not have children vaccinated but many chose to be vaccinated after witnessing how ill their family members became.

 If you plan to travel abroad, find out which countries are experiencing significant measles outbreaks, make sure your immunizations are up to date, and follow good hygiene practices.

Another serious virus that is causing concern among health officials is polio. Like measles, polio is a virus that can have devastating effects. While most cases produce no symptoms, up to 8 percent of those infected have symptoms of varying degrees of severity from flu-like fever and sore throat to paralysis of muscles needed for breathing and movement. A full recovery is typical for those with the milder forms but those diagnosed with paralytic polio can suffer permanent muscle paralysis and even death.

Nearly completely eradicated worldwide due to a vigorous vaccination campaign, there is now a growing outbreak of polio in Africa, southwest Asia, and the Middle East. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative website provides a list of countries with significant polio outbreaks. This year three countries-Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are still considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be polio-endemic. Many of the areas with continued high rates of polio are those that are also experiencing violent conflicts and have slowed down immunization campaigns. Not only are health care workers challenged by reaching people in remote areas, KidsHealth reports they have at times been threatened and even killed for their efforts.

As with measles, if you are planning to travel abroad, especially if Africa or Asia is one of your destinations, make sure you are fully immunized for polio. Unlike measles, polio is usually transmitted by consuming food or water contaminated with the virus. Washing hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and avoiding drinking water that may be contaminated are essential safe guards while traveling.

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