Outbreak: Why The Measles Are Back

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On average, there are about 60 cases of measles reported in the United States every year. The viral disease is considered preventable because of the widely available MMR vaccine. But last year, the Center for Disease Control saw the highest number of measles since 1996.

According the the CDC, the majority of the measles cases reported last year were imported either by foreign visitors or U.S. residents who picked up the measles overseas. About 86 percent of the patients were not vaccinated. Here in Kansas, we've seen two outbreaks in two years. The first last year in Johnson County and the second just a few months ago near Garden City.

After two mission trips to Nicaragua, Jarod and Monty Metcalf have several souvenirs and an entire slide show of pictures. This summer, they'll be adding to their collection. They've already started drafting their list of things to do before they board the plane.

“We make sure we have all the proper gear, as far as rain coats and boots, we do some walking and hiking,” Jarod Metcalf said.

One more item on their pre-flight agenda, make sure they are both up to date on all their vaccinations; including the shot for measles, mumps and rubella.

“It would definitely ruin the trip or put a bad light on the trip if we came back with a disease or gave somebody else a disease because of that,” Metcalf said.

The center for disease control is urging everyone, especially international travelers, to double check their shot records. Last year, the CDC recorded 222 measles cases in the U.S.; the highest number in 15 years. So far this year, there have been 33 cases. Six of those were here in Kansas.

“It was the first measles that we've seen for years,” said Ashley Rich, Director of St. Catherine Hospital in Garden City.

In January, a patient walked into a Garden City emergency room with flu like symptoms. A few tests revealed the beginning of a measles outbreak.

“From there it just went from two to six, we ended with six. It involved a couple of hundred contacts that we had to physically find or interview,” said Ashley Goss, Administrator of the Finney County Health Department.

Finney County's Health Department spent six weeks trying to track down everyone that first patient came into contact with. It doesn't take much for one person to spread the virus, it's airborne and very contagious.

“So like with you and I standing right here right now if one of us was sick, it's passed by droplet so the chances of you getting it if I had it and you hadn't received the vaccine are great,” Goss said.

Measles is considered a vaccine preventable disease, which is why health care professionals in Finney County say they were shocked to see an outbreak. Of the six confirmed patients, five were not vaccinated.

It's been years since Dr. Jose Sanchez has diagnosed a measles case, thanks to the widely available vaccine. But the pediatrician tells us he's noticed an alarming number of parents opting out of vaccines for their children.

“The families that don't vaccinate their kids maybe their frightened of the vaccines they've read maybe they're linked to autism but I would try to reassure them that that's not the case at all,” Dr. Sanchez said.

While the measles vaccine is easily accessible in the U.S., Dr. Sanchez says that's not the case for all other countries. Which is why he encourages anyone planning to travel to double check their immunization records before they take off.

“They go to Europe they go to Africa, you know a case of measles is a plane ride away and then we get cases here,” Dr. Sanchez said.

Jared and Monty Metcalf say they're both covered, they're shots are up to date. They say the only thing they're worried about bringing back from their upcoming travels are more souvenirs and plenty of pictures.

Doctors suggest children getting vaccinated at around one year old and then again around the time they start kindergarten. If you've had the measles, you are most likely immune. There is also a test that can be done to see if you are still immune if you've already had the shot

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