The measles is infecting the U.S. in a big way this year, and it could be headed for Wichita.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the measles virus has affected 20 states in 2014, with a grand total of 514 cases — an all-time high. In the last 14 years, there have never been more than 100 reported cases.
The Kansas State Health Department also released reports of three confirmed cases in Johnson County earlier this month, and the KDHE communications director, Sara Belfry, added that the metro area in Kansas City has seen 27 cases.
Measles is a virus that mainly affects the respiratory and the immune systems. Sufferers often lose their appetite, and develop high fevers, red eyes, a runny nose, and on the tail end of the virus, a hacking cough. Furthermore, measles can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis, and the CDC reports that one or two in every 1,000 children will die from this virus.
There is no identified treatment for measles, and the condition is highly contagious, easily spread through contact with bodily fluids and secretions that result from a simple cough or sneeze.
One of the only preventions against contracting the virus is a vaccination, but many parents are denying their children the injection because they fear the side effects. Some reports have linked vaccinations to the onset of autism.
But this is not a valid argument, according to infectious disease physician with Infectious Disease Consultants, Thomas Moore.
“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.”
In addition to these challenges, health officials face other difficulties stopping this virus from spreading. It can be hard to pinpoint the origin of the virus in a patient, as the symptoms can take up to three weeks to manifest. Once the initial signs of measles appear, however, Moore encourages people to seek help from their physician as soon as possible. By placing these patients in isolation, he says the risk of infecting others can be minimized.
The KDHE is currently working with local health officials to sequester the problem.
“We hope we don’t see a widespread outbreak in the state,” said Charlie Hunt, the epidemiologist for KDHE. “That would be an unfortunate circumstance. We’re hoping to avoid that.”