The nation-wide measles outbreak is likely to get to Utah in the next few weeks. Right now we have a short opportunity to consider the risks and plan for prevention.
If you and your child have already been immunized, you have nothing to fear, as the measles vaccine protects exceptionally well. If you have chosen to forego the vaccine, you need to prepare for three weeks of protective quarantine. Or get the vaccine.
Are you prepared to keep your unimmunized child home from school for three weeks? If measles gets to your community, vulnerable children will have to be isolated away from all other children. No school. No daycare. No church. No shopping.
And for you, the parent, three weeks of missing work. How many dozens of times will you be able to say, “No. You can’t go out and play,” before you and your child suffer meltdowns?
There is a lot of misinformation circling about the measles vaccine and vaccines in general, so let’s consider some information.
Many parents have only a vague understanding of vaccines. They may incorrectly believe that vaccines take over the job of defense and that the child’s own immune defenses will get lazy. Or they may think that the vaccines are some sort of antibiotic that stays in their child to kill germs, or a super vitamin to strengthen the child’s immune defenses, or some chemical that changes their child.
None of that is true. The vaccine is simply education. It remains in the body for only a few days and teaches your immune defenses what the enemy’s surface proteins look like. The vaccine is like an FBI wanted poster to simply show the local defenders what proteins to look out for. This information allows the child’s own immune system to respond to an invasion strongly and immediately, not suffering the several-day lag time needed in an actual infection to ramp-up a protective response.
The measles vaccine provides excellent protection. It is manufactured by humans so, of course, is not perfect. But If you receive two doses of the vaccine you are well protected, for life.
The vaccine is safer than most things that enter our bodies, certainly safer than almost all medicines, pesticides, shellfish or even peanut butter. Without the vaccine, if you are somehow exposed, you are extremely likely to suffer the disease.
Measles is an extremely contagious disease. This virus can linger in the air for two hours, invading 9 out of 10 people who are in the same space (a classroom, restaurant, airplane, etc.) as the patient. Each case then infects an average of 17 new cases. The virus is contagious for about four days before the identifying rash shows up and another four days after.
The measles virus is a potent adversary that has been part of human history since at least the ninth century. Its only host is the human body, so that tells us that for the past 1,200 years the measles virus has been able to find and invade an unbroken series of new vulnerable human hosts within its eight-day contagious period. If it can’t find another new host within those eight days, the virus dies.
This predator has developed exquisite skills to locate and infect vulnerable humans.
I estimate that close to 180,000 Utahns are vulnerable to this scourge. When it gets to Utah, it is likely to stay circulating in our community for many weeks, continually finding a ready supply of new hosts.
We have a short time to prepare. Please get your loved-ones vaccinated.
Or find a very secluded place to hide.
William E. Cosgrove, M.D., Cottonwood Heights, is a pediatrician and chair of the Salt Lake County Board of Health.