Although the measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, cases have risen sharply in recent years from an average of 60 cases per year early in the decade to an average of 155 cases per year since 2010. This year could be the worst: There have already been 106 measles cases reported, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
California saw 58 of those cases, the highest number seen in the state since 1995, and CDC officials reported on Thursday that only 15 of the measles patients had documented vaccinations against the virus.
As some parents around the country shun measles immunizations for children -- often due to unfounded fears about the shot’s safety -- infectious disease experts have advised doctors to brush up on recognizing the signs and symptoms of the highly contagious virus. (Most younger physicians have never seen a case firsthand.)
“It is essential that [health care] providers maintain a high level of suspicion for measles” in those with a fever and rash who have been in contact with travelers to Europe and other foreign countries where measles outbreaks are common, wrote Dr. Julia Shaklee Sammons, an infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in a commentary published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Thursday.
Most of the cases are due to isolated outbreaks from travelers who get infected overseas.
Doctors should also recognize classic measles symptoms including a red, blotchy rash, cough, and conjunctivitis or pink eye, Sammons urged, and should immediately isolate patients suspected of having measles in rooms equipped with special air handling and ventilation systems.
She also emphasized the importance of vaccination. “We need to talk to our patients about measles vaccination and remind them what is at stake if imported measles cases continue to land in communities of unvaccinated persons, especially for those who are too young or ineligible to be vaccinated,” she wrote.