After Rockland County declared a countywide state of emergency last week banning any person under 18 who is unvaccinated for measles from public spaces, Suffolk County issued a recommendation.
In a press release, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken urged county residents to make sure they are immunized against measles. Despite the recent ban in Rockland County due to a reported 157 cases of measles since October 2018, there is no immediate public concern in Suffolk.
“In light of recent reports, residents should make sure to receive their measles shots to protect themselves,” Bellone said in the press release. “While there is no immediate public health concern in Suffolk County, this should serve as a reminder to do what is necessary out of an abundance of caution.”
Stony Brook Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and professor of pediatrics, said early symptoms of measles, which is a virus, can be mistaken for the common cold with a patient suffering from a runny nose, fever and red, watery eyes. She said even doctors can miss the signs of measles, that is until the typical rash of flat red spots appears.
The best protection against measles is the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, the doctor said, and two doses of the MMR vaccine is needed. Measles is highly contagious, and a person could infect others even 60 feet away. She said an unvaccinated person can potentially catch the measles even if they were in the same supermarket or airport as an infected person.
“The reason for the isolation is to keep the kids who are at risk from the kids who are incubating the illness, or they don’t know they have measles,” she said, adding there are those who are unable to be vaccinated due to medical reasons.
The doctor said anyone born before 1957 more than likely had measles. After 1957, three different vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella were given, and now all are combined into one immunization called MMR. She said one should find their immunization records to see if they received two rounds of each when it was split, or two doses of the MMR vaccine. Once a person gets the measles or the proper doses of the MMR vaccine, they are immune to measles.
Nachman said it’s important to get the full doses, and if a person isn’t sure if they got two rounds of MMR, an extra dose will not hurt them.
When she talks with parents who are hesitant about the immunizations, Nachman said she tells them not to be fooled by what’s written on the internet, and to make sure any website they visit has a review process by professionals as anyone can write anything on a blog without checking facts.
The doctor also said it’s important to remember diseases such as measles are still in the environment, and just because we don’t have an outbreak right now, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. She calls immunization “community protection” instead of using the common term “herd immunity,” which describes when the majority of the population is vaccinated, there is less likelihood of an unvaccinated person being infected.
“You have to do the same thing for your entire community that you expect your community to do for you,” she said. “That’s what community protection is all about. You don’t want your kid getting into a car unless the driver is wearing a seatbelt and your kid is wearing a seatbelt. That’s what a community does. It protects everyone in the community.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, cases of measles have been confirmed in 15 states and is still common in many parts of the world. Measles has been brought into the United States by unvaccinated American travelers and foreign visitors, according to the website. Worldwide, an estimated 20 million people get measles. Out of those infected, 146,000, mostly children, die from the illness each year.