Could Measles Come to Western North Carolina? What to Know about the Contagious and Deadly Virus

could the measles come to western north carolina? mission healthBy Charles Letizia, Public Health Epidemiologist

Measles is increasing at an alarming rate across the country. Although western North Carolina hasn’t had any confirmed cases, we remain vulnerable due to below-average immunization rates in the area. Current hot spots are New York, Washington and Michigan. There have been five confirmed cases in eastern Tennessee, which makes measles feel a little too close to home.

So could measles come to western North Carolina? We can’t say for sure but it’s possible so it’s important to take necessary precautions and be prepared. Here’s what you need to know about the extremely contagious and potentially deadly virus – including signs, symptoms, how to protect yourself and your options for care.

Measles is an airborne virus that can remain in the air for up to two hours after a person with measles has left the room. Unimmunized people are at the greatest risk for measles, but anyone that’s been in contact with someone who has the virus is at risk.

The vaccine is the No. 1 way to help prevent the spread of measles.

Both children and adults can both protect themselves by receiving the two-dose MMR (measles, mumps rubella) vaccine series. One dose is 93 percent effective and two doses are 97 percent effective for preventing measles.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the vaccine prevented 21.1 million deaths due to measles from 2000-2017 with nearly 85 percent of the world’s children having received one dose of the measles vaccine by their first birthday. Deaths from measles have decreased 84 percent in recent years, but the virus is still present in developing counties. Know your immunization and travel history!

Common symptoms of measles are high fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, Koplik spots (clustered, white lesions on inside of mouth that could appear two to three days before the rash itself) and a rash – often starting on the face and spreading down to neck, trunk, arms and legs. Complications of measles if not treated, such as pneumonia and brain inflammation, can be deadly.

Measles vaccine protects against a potentially deadly illness. Getting the vaccine protects not only yourself, but other individuals who cannot receive the vaccine, such as infants under 1 year and immune-compromised patients. While it can happen, it is rare to get measles if you’ve been vaccinated.

How, When and Where to Get the Measles Vaccine and Seek Care

To get a measles vaccine, make an appointment with your pediatrician or primary care physician, or visit a Mission My Care Now walk-in clinic or other pharmacy near you.

If you show signs of measles or believe you may have been exposed, call ahead before seeking care and inform healthcare staff of your potential measles illness or exposure. Avoid the emergency department if you can and do not go to the emergency department [1]without advanced warning and wearing a face mask. Consider having an initial consultation with a doctor online with Mission Virtual Clinic [2] or call ahead and visit a Mission My Care Now walk-in clinic near you [3].

Charles Letizia, MPH, is a public health epidemiologist in Infection Prevention at Mission Health.

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