By Kalli Damschen
A recent measles outbreak in the United States raised concerns about the disease, but according to local medical experts, Baylor students have little reason to worry.
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. The disease has been rare in the United States since the spread of the measles vaccine, but a recent outbreak beginning in California may have some people nervous about a return of measles.
However, there have not been any recent cases of measles in Waco.
“I have worked here for over 20 years and do not remember any cases of measles during that time,” said Baylor Health Services medical director Dr. Sharon Stern in an email to the Lariat.
Measles symptoms include coughing, runny nose, fever, sore throat, red eyes and rash. The measles virus can be transmitted through the air through coughing or sneezing and can spread very quickly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 3 to 4 million people were infected with measles each year prior to 1963, when the vaccination program began. As many as 500 individuals died of measles each year, and thousands of others were hospitalized.
Since the start of the vaccination program, the impact of measles has decreased drastically.
In 2000, the United States declared that measles had been eliminated, which means that the disease was no longer continuously present in the U.S., thanks to the spread of the measles vaccination.
“The measles shot is a combo shot with several other diseases that it can prevent,” said Waco-McLennan County Public Health District epidemiologist Kahler Stone. “It’s given to kids usually when they’re at a young age.”
According to Stone, it’s been several years since a Waco resident has been infected with measles, and the local immunizations outreach department is largely responsible for the elimination of the disease. The department follows up with schools and other programs that work with kids to ensure that everyone is vaccinated, or that a lack of vaccination is documented.
“Our community is pretty well vaccinated compared to some other larger cities across the country, and a lot of that has to do with our department working with the schools,” Stone said. “That’s one of the biggest things we work on to prevent measles, is getting the vaccine out there and getting everybody immunized.”
In recent years, the number of measles cases has been on the rise in the United States.
The CDC reports that national coverage for the Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine is at roughly 91.9 percent.
While some individuals forget to get vaccinated on time or are unable to receive immunizations for health reasons, others refuse to get vaccinated for religious, philosophical or personal reasons, the CDC reports.
The CDC reports that approximately three out of 100 vaccinated will still contract measles if exposed to the virus, but two doses of the MMR immunization are 97 percent effective. Those who do not receive the vaccinations are most at risk of contracting and spreading the disease.
Baylor students run little risk of contracting measles, not only because the disease is uncommon in McLennan County, but because students are required to receive the MMR vaccine in order to attend Baylor.
“Most students are adequately immunized against measles,” Stern said.
Stern says the measles vaccine is both safe and effective.
“If students have had two doses of the MMR shot, both after their first birthday, they should be protected,” Stern said.
To ensure students are safe from measles, they can schedule an appointment with the Baylor University Health Center to check their immunization status and, if necessary, receive an MMR vaccine.