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Wichita-area health officials brace for measles cases

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at 2:06 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 22, 2014, at 2:01 p.m.

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Updated: The number of KC metro cases is now 29 cases as of Thursday morning.

As measles reaches Kansas, local health care professionals are preparing for it in the Wichita area.

Measles – a highly infectious virus that causes fever, runny nose, cough and body rash – has hit record numbers this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far in 2014, the CDC has reported 514 cases in 20 states, with 16 outbreaks representing 87 percent of the reported cases this year.

During most years since 2000, fewer than 100 measles cases have been reported in the U.S.

Earlier this month, three cases were confirmed in Johnson County. The Kansas City metro area has 29 confirmed cases, said Sara Belfry, communications director for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

“We hope we don’t see a widespread outbreak in the state,” said Charlie Hunt, state epidemiologist for KDHE. “That would be an unfortunate circumstance. We’re hoping to avoid that.”

Hunt said the state is working with the Johnson County Health Department to investigate those cases and follow up as needed.

“Measles is highly contagious. It has a way of finding you,” said Thomas Moore, infectious disease physician with Infectious Disease Consultants and infection control chair at Wesley Medical Center.

Moore said he and other physicians are “raising the alarm” among health care providers, warning that measles are possible locally.

The increase in measles nationwide is largely attributable to growing numbers of people who refuse to vaccinate their children, Moore said.

“They’re denying facts. Denying science,” Moore said.

“Parents are responsible for the health and safety of their child and all the information that the vaccination is harmful or linked to autism in any way has been thoroughly debunked,” he said. “Failure to vaccinate your child is negligence.”

Adults who had the vaccine as children should be fine, Moore said.

If someone thinks they have measles, they should contact their physician immediately. At hospitals, those with suspected measles are put in isolation to help prevent spreading the disease, Moore said.

Because it usually takes one to three weeks for symptoms to occur with measles after exposure, it can be difficult to track how someone got it.

It takes about two weeks for the measles vaccine to become effective, Moore said.

“The sooner you’re immunized, the better,” Moore said. “(The vaccine is) safe and well tolerated. The biggest problem we see is a sore arm, and that means it’s working.”

The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) is required for children, but there are exemptions for religious and medical reasons, said Chris Steward, epidemiologist and surveillance coordinator at Sedgwick County Health Department.

As soon as Sedgwick County health officials heard about measles in Kansas City, they contacted KDHE about the risk of it spreading to Wichita, Steward said.

“We monitor diseases in the country and others countries because people travel a lot,” she said. “We’re only a plane flight away from having diseases come here.”

Because measles is designated as a reportable disease, health care providers are required to report if they suspect a patient has measles to the health department.

“It would become the highest priority of all of our cases if a doctor called and said they suspected it,” Steward said.

Measles can cause complications like ear infections and pneumonia. For every 1,000 children with the disease in the U.S., one or two will die, according to the CDC.

Those most at risk for complications are children under 5, adults over 20, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women, according to the CDC.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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