Public health director urges measles vaccine after cases popping up in the Twin Cities 

Published 9:00 pm Friday, October 14, 2022

Like Wile E. Coyote’s many attempts to defeat Road Runner, some things can’t be defeated on the first, second or third attempt. 

Such is the case with measles, which was declared eliminated in the United States back in 2000. It was not, however, eliminated throughout the world.

And being eliminated didn’t mean it’s gone, it meant an absence of disease transmission for a year or more.

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“Right now there has been travel-related outbreaks of measles up in the Twin Cities area,” said Sue Yost, director of public health for Freeborn County.

But the return of the disease wasn’t surprising for Yost.

“It tends to come back every so often,” she said. “It’s not necessarily eliminated — it was very rare that it would happen.”

That’s because measles was still occurring outside of the U.S., so visitors returning from overseas who weren’t vaccinated sometimes returned with the disease and exposed it to others.

And while she wasn’t sure how many cases there were In Minnesota, she did know it was considered an outbreak.

Symptoms of measles include rash, fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes. Yost said symptoms appear eight to 12 days after initial exposure, with a fever coming first and the five- to six-day rash lasting two to three days after the fever starts. Measles can lead to hospitalization and has proven fatal.

Complications were most likely to happen in children under 5 and adults older than 20 and can include diarrhea, pneumonia or even brain infection.

For anyone pregnant, measles increases the risk of premature labor, miscarriage and low birth weight.

People with measles can be contagious from as early as four days before a rash appears to as late as four days after the rash appears.

And while measles is somewhat similar to chickenpox, there are differences.

“I don’t think people usually die from the chickenpox,” Yost said, though she admitted in rare cases chickenpox could prove deadly.

She said she also thought because the measles vaccine was invented much earlier (1963 compared to 1995), measles was a more serious infection.

A chickenpox rash is also itchy, whereas a measles rash is not typically itchy.

According to Yost, before the chickenpox vaccine was developed, 4 million people were infected with chickenpox annually, with over 10,500 people going to the hospital. She said about 100 to 150 people died. 

With measles, one in five people infected will go to the hospital for care, one out of 1,000 develop brain swelling and potential brain damage and one to three out of 1,000 die. 

She said the best way to prevent the spread of measles is with vaccination. Wearing a mask and washing hands also helps.

“It’s so contagious that if one person has it, up to 9 to 10 people around him will become infected if they are not protected,” she said. “A child can get measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been even up to 2 hours after the person has left the room.”

One of her theories for why there was a measles outbreak: the pandemic.

“People have delayed getting immunizations due to the pandemic,” she said, noting people were behind on their immunizations. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, a person who already had measles can’t get reinfected. 

Yost said despite some cases appearing in rural counties, she believed Freeborn County wasn’t likely to see an outbreak. She admitted that if someone who was unvaccinated from the area happened to travel to the Twin Cities, there would be a chance they could be exposed.

If you suspect you or someone you know has measles, she encouraged them to get vaccinated if they weren’t already and to call a health care provider immediately.

If left untreated, there’s a chance you could die.

She also predicted measles would “get under control” eventually and that the amount of cases wouldn’t increase significantly for a year.