Measles: CDC and WHO Warn 40 Million Children at Risk Due to Low Vax Rates

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  • This month the CDC and WHO warned that 40 million children globally are at risk for developing the disease due to low vaccination rates.
  • The news comes after dozens of children in Ohio have developed measles.
  • Seventeen of the children have been hospitalized.

This month the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization have warned that mealses could become an “imminent threat in every region of the world,” as tens of millions of children are undervaccinated for the disease.

The report was made as a measles outbreak in Ohio continues to grow.

At least 44 children in Columbus, Ohio have been infected with measles and 17 of them have been hospitalized, according to health officials with Columbus Public Health.

The outbreak has since expanded to 17 schools and daycare centers.

The measles outbreak was first reported on November 9th when four cases were linked to a childcare facility in Columbus.

All of the children infected in the Ohio outbreak have been unvaccinated, a spokesperson with Columbus Public Health confirmed with Healthline.

Columbus Public Health has asked the CDC for assistance in investigating and controlling the outbreak.

“Overall, it is unfortunate and worrisome that we are seeing a measles outbreak in 2022, as measles is entirely preventable,” Dr. Cristina Tomatis Souverbielle, an infectious disease physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, told Healthline.

CDC and WHO warn children at risk for measles

This month the CDC and World Health Organization issued a report that 40 million children are at risk for measles globally.

They reported that in 2021 about 25 million children missed their first dose of the measles vaccine and another almost 15 million children missed their second dose of the vaccine.

“The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programs were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Getting immunization programs back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease.”

What’s fueling the Ohio outbreak?

According to Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and an infectious disease expert, measles outbreaks can spread when unvaccinated individuals get infected with the measles virus.

Though measles has been eliminated in the United States, it continues to circulate in many other countries and outbreaks in the U.S. have become more common in recent years.

Outbreaks in the U.S. can occur when an unvaccinated traveler contracts the infection abroad and brings it back to the U.S.

The single infection can then trigger a domestic chain of infections among unvaccinated people, says Adalja.

“The virus will spread whenever it has the opportunity to infect unvaccinated individuals,” Adalja said.

Adalja suspects the outbreak will be restricted to Ohio, especially if vaccination rates are high enough to prevent the virus from spreading further.

“This outbreak will stop when the virus runs into a wall of vaccinated individuals coupled [with] isolation of cases and contact tracing,” Adalja said.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, is concerned about the timing of the outbreak.

“It’s frightening to me, honestly, that this is happening around Thanksgiving because again we know that this is a time when people are going to be traveling when they’re going to be in close quarters with people,” she said.

The potential for the outbreak to spread beyond Ohio is very worrisome, Hoyen added.

How to prevent and control measles

Measles can be prevented by receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination.

Children are advised to get two doses — the first between 12 to 15 months of age and the second dose between four to six years of age.

Adults who do not have immunity are also advised to get one dose of the MMR vaccine. This is especially important for people who are living near or traveling around the outbreak, says Hoyen.

Aside from getting vaccinated, contact tracing and quarantining are the best ways to stop the spread of measles.

“Measles is preventable with vaccination. In addition, early diagnosis and isolation are helpful, while vaccines for everyone eligible are most important,” Souverbielle said.

Declining vaccination rates lead to outbreaks

Evidence suggests that vaccination coverage needs to be above 95% to prevent outbreaks from occurring, however, measles vaccination rates have declined in recent years.

According to the CDC, 90.8% of kids under two years of age and 91.9% of kids ages 13 to 17. have received the MMR vaccine.

Hoyen suspects that MMR vaccination rates are even lower in the Ohio regions in which measles is spreading.

“Measles is the most contagious virus known and will be able to spread if vaccination rates dip even a small amount,” Adalja said.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a decline in routine childhood vaccinations in the U.S., creating the opportunity for preventable diseases like measles to spread.

“Vaccination rates are unfortunately lower at this time, partially due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made it possible for measles to recirculate,” says Souverbielle.

Here’s how contagious measles is

Measles is an extremely contagious virus that is transmitted through respiratory droplets that are expelled when infected people cough, sneeze, talk, and breathe. ‘

In fact, it is so contagious that 9 out of 10 people without immunity will develop the disease if they are exposed to the virus.

It typically takes between eight to 12 days after an exposure for an infected person to develop symptoms.

The virus can be shed over an eight-day period — four days before symptoms appear and four days after symptom onset, according to Souverbielle.

How dangerous is measles

Initial symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes followed by a rash.

Approximately 1 in 5 people who get measles will be hospitalized. About 1 in 1,000 will develop a severe brain infection called encephalitis and one to three of every 1,000 who get infected with measles will die.

“Young children can be particularly susceptible to complications from measles, due to their underdeveloped immune systems,” says Souverbielle.

According to Hoyen, about 20% of young kids infected with measles will be hospitalized.

Some children will experience issues eating or staying hydrated, some will develop pneumonia, and a small percentage will experience acute encephalitis.

“When people think of measles they think, ‘Oh, it’s just a rash,’ but for a good percentage of the kids, it’s much more than just a rash and it can actually lead to hospitalization, intensive care unit stays, and devastating neurologic outcomes for others,” Hoyen said.

The bottom line:

A measles outbreak is steadily spreading among unvaccinated children in Columbus, OH. Infectious diseases expert say the outbreak was caused by low vaccination rates among children in the area. Measles can cause a painful rash, and nearly 20% of kids who contract the infection are hospitalized.

The news comes as the CDC and WHO are warning that millions of children are at risk for developing the disease globally due to low vaccination rates.

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