Measles could make a comeback in SC. Here’s why
Misperceptions and a lack of vaccinations may lead to more measles outbreaks, including in the Carolinas, health professionals say.
Dr. Arash Poursina, infectious disease specialist for Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, said similar problems that are leading to a measles outbreak in other states may bring the disease to the Carolinas.
“I expect for us to start having a lot of problems,” Poursina said.
A recent measles outbreak with more than 500 cases since October led health officials to issue an order for members in an Orthodox Jewish New York City neighborhood to be vaccinated or face fines, the Associated Press reported.
Measles is a contagious viral disease spread by an infected person when he or she coughs or sneezes, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Measles is typically marked by fever, cough and a runny nose, followed by a rash.
Measles complications can lead to pneumonia and encephalitis, or death, according to S.C. DHEC. Children younger than age 5, women who are pregnant and someone with a weakened immune system are at greater risk.
Poursina said a lack of knowledge about measles and a fear of vaccinations are factors contributing to an increase in a disease that once was considered eliminated in the U.S.
“It’s so contagious that when you have any cases start in one place, it quickly starts to spread to other places,” he said.
There have been 555 individual confirmed measles cases in 20 states from Jan. 1 to April 11, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is the second-greatest number of reported measles cases the U.S. since 2000, when measles was considered eliminated in the country, according to the CDC. In 2014, there were 667 confirmed individual cases.
States reporting cases include Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Maryland and others, according to the CDC.
South Carolina saw multiple cases of the measles in Spartanburg County last year, according to S.C. DHEC.
S.C. DHEC recommends the MMR vaccine as the best way to protect against the measles. According to the health department, the majority of people who contracted measles in 2018 were not vaccinated.
Poursina said he has heard of parents holding measles and chicken pox parties to expose their children at a young age.
“It’s a very dangerous thing to do. No parent should ever put their kid’s life at risk by doing something like that,” Poursina said. “They think it is just a fever and a rash, but that is a huge misconception. It can be a deadly disease.”
Poursina said schools have seen cases of other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as the flu and chicken pox.
DHEC requires all South Carolina students to have the measles vaccine prior to entry into kindergarten through 12th grade. Children may get an exemption based on a religious belief or for medical reasons.
The percentage of students in York, Chester and Lancaster counties with religious exemptions for vaccines has steadily increased in the past five years, according to DHEC.
In York County, the percentage of students with religious exemptions increased from .91 percent in 2013-14 to 1.73 percent in 2017-18, according to S.C. DHEC. In Chester County, .23 percent of enrolled students had religious exemptions in 2013-14 compared to .30 percent in 2017-18.
Lancaster County also saw an increase from .34 percent of enrolled students in 2013-14 to .88 percent in 2017-18, DHEC reports.
Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director of infection prevention at Atrium Health in Charlotte said the local region doesn’t have large pockets of people with religious reasons against vaccination, but may face a risk as people travel around the country.
People who are unvaccinated contributed to cases already being seen across the United States, reports S.C. DHEC. As measles is still common in other parts of the world, including Europe, Africa and Asia, people who travel without first being vaccinated may bring the disease into the U.S.
Washing hands and staying away from public places when sick can help prevent the spread of infection, Passaretti said.