measles public domain pic from CDC

This photograph from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the skin rash on a patient’s abdomen three days after the onset of a measles infection. 

THE ISSUE

A case of measles in Lancaster County — initially believed to be the first here since 2001 — was confirmed in late June, health officials said. The United States is experiencing its largest outbreak of the virus in nearly three decades; in Pennsylvania, the total number of cases has risen to 11. But as LNP’s Heather Stauffer reported this week, earlier cases of measles in two other Lancaster County residents — who reportedly became ill out of state and weren’t in Pennsylvania while infectious — previously had been confirmed by state health officials but had not been announced publicly. In those older cases,  the people “no longer have the disease,” said Nate Wardle, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health. There was no public exposure in any of these cases, he said.

With measles having arrived in Lancaster County, state health officials are eager to reassure residents that there’s no reason to panic.

We’re not panicking. We trust health officials when they tell us there’s no reason to think measles is spreading here.

Then again, that’s easy for those of us on the LNP Editorial Board to say.

We don’t have children who, for legitimate medical reasons, cannot be immunized against the disease. We’re not undergoing chemotherapy, which might weaken our resistance to infection. We don’t have infants who are too young to get the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.

That other people now may worry — despite the reassurances of state health officials — infuriates us. On top of the serious health issues they, or their loved ones, already are facing, they shouldn’t need to wonder if measles might be added to their list of travails.

Because of immunization, measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. But the disease is making an alarming comeback: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,095 individual cases were confirmed in 28 states from Jan. 1 to June 27. “This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992,” the CDC says.

And why are we facing measles outbreaks? International travel is a major factor. Another significant factor is vaccine hesitancy, which has been identified by the World Health Organization as a global health threat.

The world is an ever-smaller place. When unvaccinated adults and their unvaccinated children travel to parts of the world where other unvaccinated people live, the souvenirs they bring home may include measles.

And when unvaccinated people live, shop, worship and socialize in a community, they weaken that community’s protection against measles. They put at risk those who for genuine medical reasons cannot get vaccinated.

The Lancaster County residents confirmed to have — or have had — measles were unvaccinated, state health officials said. (Those cases, and two additional suspected cases, are all believed to be linked.)

Measles is highly contagious. You don’t need to kiss or high-five an infected person to get the disease.

These facts are from the CDC:

— The “measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed.

“If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected.

— “Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

— “Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before, through four days after, the rash appears.”

Though we fear these facts will land with a thud with the anti-vaxxers who are most in need of them, we’ll emphasize again that a case of measles can have serious consequences.

Children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are more likely to suffer from complications, Stauffer has reported.

About 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the U.S. who get measles is hospitalized, according to the CDC. And as many as one 1 of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children. Measles also can result in brain swelling and blindness.

There is only one surefire way to prevent the measles and that is through vaccination.

Our county, sadly, appears to be an anti-vaccination hotbed. Nearly 1 in 10 county schoolchildren has been exempted from some or all vaccinations — most because their parents claimed a philosophical exemption to immunization under our state’s ridiculously lax law.

(Again, Lancaster County lawmakers: Work to eliminate personal-belief exemptions, please. This county is ripe for a serious measles outbreak. You have a responsibility to act in the interest of public health.)

If we sound like a broken record on this issue, it’s because we keep being faced with reasons to address it. It’s incredibly frustrating to us that measles cases have been confirmed in this county.

It’s also frustrating knowing that there are people in this county — who should know better — who buy into the anti-science, anti-facts drivel of the anti-vaccination movement.

They may be blase about the arrival of measles in Lancaster County. But we’d encourage them to muster some empathy and imagine how those for whom measles poses a mortal threat might be feeling now.