With no new diagnoses over the past three weeks, state health officials believe a measles outbreak that grew to 11 total cases in Cobb County is likely contained.
The Georgia Department of Public Health said the cases were limited to three families who live in the same vicinity. All of those sickened were either unvaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown.
Last month, a student at Mabry Middle School was diagnosed with measles and nearly 20 unvaccinated people at the school – mostly students and at least one adult– were not allowed to return until the 21-day measles incubation period was over, according to the state health agency. None of those with possible exposures showed signs of measles.
Health officials traced the likely source of the outbreak to a Cobb family that had visited Florida. Members of the family — all of whom were unvaccinated — likely became infected during their travel out of state, health authorities said. The illnesses were never reported to Georgia health officials, who only learned the family’s diagnoses in the course of their investigation.
On Friday, Nancy Nydam, a spokesperson for the state health department, said that relatively high immunization rates and strong surveillance helped to contain the outbreak. She said health workers called those in quarantine every day to check on their health status and to remind them to stay at home during the quarantine period.
Dr. Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center and professor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine, praised state and local health officials for their response to the outbreak.
“Once they were notified, they acted aggressively by excluding kids who were unvaccinated, and they played a major role in minimizing the spread,” said Orenstein.
Even though Georgia’s overall immunization rates are relatively high, there’s always a risk of clusters of unvaccinated people, Orenstein said. While the outbreak appears to be over, he said, now is not the time to be complacent about measles.
“I think the most important thing to remember is immunizations are victims of their own success,” he said. “People don’t see these diseases because we have reduced them so much. And just because we are not seeing them doesn’t mean they can’t be resurrected. We shouldn’t be misled by the termination of this outbreak. We have to keep worrying and keep our immunity levels up.”
The total number of measles cases in Georgia this year is now 18. There had been no cases in the previous three years.
In Georgia, vaccinations are mandatory for public school attendance, but there are exemptions for medical and religious reasons.
An estimated 93.6% of young children in Georgia received the recommended vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella, slightly lower than the national average of 94.7%, according to research published in an October issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Also in Georgia, 2.5% of kindergartners had an exemption from at least one vaccine, which is the same overall percentage for the nation.
The CDC recommends children get two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. It’s unlikely adults born before 1957 need MMR shots. That’s because most people born before then caught measles and thus have natural immunity. Those born between 1957 and 1989 generally only had one MMR dose. One dose is about 93% effective at preventing measles. But people in that age group can still get a second dose.
In the United States, most measles cases are the result of international travel. The virus is usually brought here by people who get infected in other countries. Those travelers then spread the disease to people who have not been vaccinated.
The measles virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplets from the nose or mouth become airborne or land on surfaces where germs can live for two hours.
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