Measles is back in the headlines. The number of cases used to be in the hundreds of thousands nationwide, before the vaccine was invented. Officially it was eradicated as of the year 2000. But now the number of cases is creeping up, and there have been outbreaks very close to our viewing area.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year could be the worst for measles in more than a decade.
"We're now seeing more measles cases in this year so far than in 10 or 15 years, at least. Maybe 25," said Dr. Michael Ryan, Chief of Pediatrics at Geisinger Health System.
He explains that measles is a highly-contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus.
Although the disease is still considered rare, it is geographically close to us right now.
"We actually have no active measles cases in Pennsylvania right now, but we do in New York City, and right on our New York State border. I think they're reporting 65 cases of measles in New York," said Dr. Ryan.
Measles starts with a fever, which can get quite high. Then comes the cough, runny nose, and red burning eyes. A rash of red spots then appears, starting at the head and working its way down the body. The rash can last up to a week. The coughing can last up to 10 days.
There's no way to treat measles other than to quarantine the patient and let it run its course. But it's easily prevented with proper vaccination. And don't think it's just a kids disease. Dr. Ryan says adults who get measles are some of the sickest he has ever seen.
"One of the last cases of measles I saw here at Geisinger was an Amish woman who was pregnant. She was on a ventilator and in intensive care. She was a very sick woman."
In that case, both she and the baby were ok in the end. Dr. Ryan says these most recent outbreaks have been traced to global travelers. Measles is not under control worldwide, and he suspects people who have been overseas brought it back to communities where immunization levels aren't high. He notes that our area does have a high immunization rate.