Category: Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Is Measles Dangerous If You Are Pregnant?

While folks often try and make it seem like measles is a common childhood illness, we know that it can be dangerous.

“One of the patients was a 20-year-old pregnant woman who had rash onset on January 5 following exposure to her 12-year-old brother. After delivering a healthy baby on January 6, the mother developed severe pneumonia that was followed by respiratory arrest. She was resuscitated and transferred to an intensive care unit in a larger hospital nearby in Tennessee.”

Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Transmission of Measles Across State Lines — Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Virginia

Rarely do people who have really had measles describe it as just a fever and a rash. They remember that it was called a harmless killer for a reason.

Is Measles Dangerous If You Are Pregnant?

And there are some situations in which measles can be especially dangerous, including if you get sick when you are very young, very old, or have immune system problems.

Pregnant women should be screened for measles immunity.
Pregnant women should be screened for measles immunity.

And what if you are pregnant when you get measles?

“The Health Department announced today that the number of measles cases has grown to 390, including two pregnant women diagnosed with the infection, one diagnosed in mid-April.”

The Number of Measles Cases Grows to 390

If you are pregnant and you are exposed to someone with measles, you can get IVIG post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent you from actually getting measles, but this typically only works if given within six days of the exposure.

“To date, studies have not identified an increased risk for birth defects when pregnant women get the measles during pregnancy. However, studies suggest that measles infection is associated with an increased risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity and the baby being born with a measles infection.”

When Measles Strike, It’s Not The Happiest Place On Earth For Pregnant Women

Unlike a rubella infection during pregnancy, a measles infection is not thought to cause birth defects. Tragically, it can, like rubella, lead to an increased risk for having a miscarriage.

“Infants who develop congenital measles are at increased risk for mortality and for subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, which is more common when measles is diagnosed in infancy. In addition, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis in newborns infected with measles either congenitally or shortly after birth appears to be more severe, with a shorter latency and rapidly progressive course.”

What Obstetric Health Care Providers Need to Know About Measles and Pregnancy

And if the mother gets measles very late in her pregnancy, it can also lead to a case of congenital measles, or a baby being born with an active measles infection.

“In 52% of cases, measles was likely acquired from a relative. Complications included pneumonia in one child; two pregnant women required hospitalization, including one who miscarried.”

Notes from the Field: Measles Outbreak Among Members of a Religious Community — Brooklyn, New York, March–June 2013

Don’t take the risk that you might get measles while you are pregnant.

Make sure you are vaccinated and protected before you ever start thinking about getting pregnant, as pregnancy is a contraindication to getting the MMR vaccine. And you should wait at least 4 weeks after getting vaccinated before getting pregnant.

More on Measles in Pregnancy

Has This Really Been the Longest Flu Season in a Decade?

Many folks were probably surprised by reports that this has been the longest flu season in ten years.

After all, just about everything about this year’s flu season has likely seemed mild compared to last year.

“There have been 21 straight weeks of elevated flu season in the U.S., making the current 2018-2019 flu season the longest in ten years.”

CNN

But here we are.

Has This Really Been the Longest Flu Season in a Decade?

What does it really mean to have 21 straight weeks of elevated flu season?

Where is it elevated and by how much?

“Influenza-like-illness levels have been elevated for 21 weeks this season, breaking the previous record of 20 weeks set during the 2014-2015 flu season.”

Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView Report Week 15

It’s likely that the media reports have been generated by a statement in the latest Weekly FluView Report that influenza-like-illness levels have been elevated for a little longer than usual this season.

What does that mean?

Well, influenza-like-illness levels are the proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI), or basically, how many people are going to the doctor with flu symptoms. Once we get above the national baseline of 2.2%, we know that flu season has started.

“The proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) decreased to 2.4%, but remains above the national baseline of 2.2%. Seven of 10 regions reported ILI at or above their region-specific baseline level.”

Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView Report Week 15

And it ends when we get back below 2.2%.

Flu season is the time we spend above the national baseline level of influenza-like illness activity.

What’s missing in the talk of the longest flu season, is that it doesn’t tell you much about the severity of the flu season. For example, the peak ILI this year was well below that of last year.

And flu season doesn’t start and end at the same time all over the country.

The bottom line? This has been an average flu season and a lot of people still died, including at least 91 children.

So whether it is a long or short flu season, severe or mild, get a flu vaccine and be protected.

More on the Longest Flu Season

How to Avoid Getting Caught up in a Measles Outbreak

By now, you have likely heard the news that we are on track for record-breaking numbers of measles cases this year, both in the United States and around the world.

You may also have heard that some of the folks getting caught up in these outbreaks weren’t actually anti-vaccine, but were people who thought they already had measles or thought they were already vaccinated and protected.

How to Avoid Getting Caught up in a Measles Outbreak

Are you and your family protected against measles?

Six ways to avoid measles.

You might be thinking, “of course we are, we get all of our vaccines!”

But you still might want to double check, keeping in mind that:

  • only people born before 1957 are thought to have natural immunity to measles, because measles was very common in the pre-vaccine era
  • the original measles vaccine that was used between 1963 and 1967 was not thought to be effective, so if that’s the only dose you had, it should be repeated
  • a recommendation for a second dose of MMR didn’t come until 1990, so many people born before that time have only had one dose, especially since there was never a catch-up program to make sure older people had two doses. Even now, adults don’t necessarily need two doses of MMR unless they are in a high-risk group (foreign travel, healthcare workers, living with someone who has a compromised immune system, people with HIV, and students).
  • children don’t routinely get their first dose of MMR until they are 12 to 15 months old (one dose is 93% effective at preventing measles), with a second dose at age 4 to 6 years (two doses are 97% effective)
  • a third dose of MMR isn’t typically recommended for measles protection

Still think you and your family are protected?

In addition to routine recommendations, to avoid measles in a more high risk setting (traveling out of the country or during an outbreak), you should:

  • get infants an early MMR, giving them their first dose any time between 6 and 11 months of age (repeating this dose at age 12 to 15 months)
  • get toddlers and preschoolers an early second dose of MMR, giving them their second dose at least 28 days after the routine first dose that they received when they were 12 to 15 months old, instead of waiting until they are 4 to 6 years
  • get older children and adults two doses of MMR if they haven’t already had both doses

What if your baby is exposed to measles before you have a chance to get him vaccinated?

Younger infants who are less than six months old can get a dose of immunoglobulin within 6 days if they are exposed to measles. Older infants, children, and adults can get a dose of MMR within 72 hours if they are not vaccinated and are exposed to someone with measles.

And the very best way to avoid measles is to keep up herd immunity levels of protection in our communities. If everyone is vaccinated and protected, then we won’t have outbreaks and our kids won’t get exposed to measles!

More on Avoiding Measles

We Know What Happens If We Stop Vaccinating

It’s no surprise.

If we stop vaccinating, diseases that are now vaccine preventable will come back.

How do we know?

Because it has happened already.

We Know What Happens If We Stop Vaccinating

It has happened a lot, actually.

Remember when Sweden stopped using the DPT vaccine?

Between 1979 and 1996, Sweden suspended vaccination against pertussis because of concerns about the DPT vaccine.

Justus Ström‘s data was wrong…

And what happened?

“In 1979, the Swedish medical society abandoned whole-cell pertussis vaccine and decided to wait for a new, safer, more effective vaccine – a strategy that was soon adopted as national policy. During 1980-83, annual incidence for children aged 0–4 years increased to 3370 per 100000, with rates of serious complications approaching global rates. In subsequent years, Sweden reported more than 10000 cases annually with an incidence exceeding 100 per 100000, comparable to rates reported in some developing countries.”

Ganarosa et al on Impact of anti-vaccine movements on pertussis control: the untold story.

Pertussis came back.

In fact, endemic pertussis came back.

“Our evaluation of pertussis in the unimmunized child population gave an answer to the question of whether pertussis nowadays is a harmless disease which does not demand general vaccination. The present situation regarding pertussis in Sweden and the low efficacy of the antimicrobial treatment indicate an urgent need to prevent the disease by general vaccination as soon as a safe and effective vaccine is available.”

Romanus et al on Pertussis in Sweden after the cessation of general immunization in 1979.

Of course, they already had a safe and effective vaccine at the time. All of the claims against the whole cell pertussis vaccine ended up being untrue.

The same thing happened when Japan stopped using the MMR vaccine.

“Due directly to these gaps in ‘herd’ immunization resulting from politicized transitions in vaccination policy by the government, there were outbreaks of rubella with 17,050 cases reported between the years of 2012 and 2014, and 45 cases of congenital rubella syndrome reported to the National Epidemiological Surveillance of Infectious Diseases from week 1, 2012 to week 40, 2014.”

Yusuke Tanaka on History repeats itself in Japan: Failure to learn from rubella epidemic leads to failure to provide the HPV vaccine

What happened in Ukraine when immunization rates dropped in the 1990s? There were 17,387 cases of diphtheria and 646 deaths from 1992 to 1997. Also high, were cases of measles (over 23,000 cases in 1993) and pertussis (almost 7,000 cases in 1993).

Remember the measles outbreaks that spread across Europe in 2010 to 11, leading to about 30,000 cases of measles each year, and at least 28 deaths?

That should have been enough to warn folks, but it didn’t.

Things are much worse now, with over 120 measles deaths in Europe over the past few years.

More recently, in Venezuela, shortages of most things have led to ongoing epidemics of measles and diphtheria, a “potential for reemergence of poliomyelitis,” and a risk to neighboring countries.

“Officials say the low coverage rate and widespread transmission of the virus is due to many factors, including transport costs for those in rural areas, a high number of people with weakened immune systems, such people living with HIV and tuberculosis – and vaccine refusal.”

Ukraine: Red Cross deployed to help contain largest measles outbreak in Europe in four years

And once again, there are measles outbreaks in Ukraine. This time, they have spread to many other countries, fueling outbreaks in Israel and the United States.

We know what happens if we stop vaccinating. Get vaccinated and stop the outbreaks.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are very obviously necessary.

More on What Happens If We Stop Vaccinating

Why Do We Include SSPE When Counting Measles Deaths?

Anti-vaccine folks often like to push the idea that parents shouldn’t worry about measles and that it is just a rash with a little fever.

They leave out the part that it is a week of having a high fever, irritability, and other symptoms too.

In addition to downplaying the symptoms of measles, they never talk about the possible complications, such as encephalitis, seizures, and death.

Why Do We Include SSPE When Counting Measles Deaths?

They certainly never talk about SSPE or subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.

“Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a progressive neurological disorder of children and young adults that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is a slow, but persistent, viral infection caused by defective measles virus.”

Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis Information Page

SSPE is a late complication of having a natural measles infection.

That’s why it should be included when counting measles deaths.

“Available epidemiological data, in line with virus genotyping data, do not suggest that measles vaccine virus can cause SSPE. Furthermore, epidemiological data do not suggest that the administration of measles vaccine can accelerate the course of SSPE or trigger SSPE in an individual who would have developed the disease at a later time without immunization. Neither can the vaccine lead to the development of SSPE where it would not otherwise have occurred in a person who has already a benign persistent wild measles infection at the time of vaccination.”

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis and measles vaccination

It is not a complication of having a measles containing vaccine. If it were, then why didn’t we see more cases of SSPE as more and more people got vaccinated, instead of a drop in SSPE cases and deaths, corresponding to a drop in measles cases?

But SSPE isn’t gone yet, just like measles hasn’t yet been eradicated.

32 of these SSPE deaths have been since 2000. Source is the CDC Wonder database.
32 of these SSPE deaths have been since 2000. Source is the CDC Wonder database.

Since 2000, when the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in the United States, there have been at least 37 SSPE deaths.

“Investigators learned that, in 2012, at age 11 years, the boy, who was previously healthy and developmentally normal, had been admitted to a tertiary care children’s hospital in Oregon with severe, progressive encephalopathy. Before the onset of his neurologic illness, the patient had been a straight-A, fifth-grade student who played soccer and basketball. The symptoms began approximately 4 months before the hospital admission, when the patient began to struggle with homework, drop utensils, and doze off during meals, eventually progressing to falling asleep while walking.”

Notes from the Field: Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis Death — Oregon, 2015

I say at least, because the CDC Wonder database doesn’t list the 2015 SSPE death of a boy in Oregon.

Anti-vaccine folks like to ignore the fact that yes, people have died of measles recently. And measles puts you at risk for SSPE, which is always fatal.
Anti-vaccine folks like to ignore the fact that yes, people have died of measles recently. And measles puts you at risk for SSPE, which is always fatal.

We are fortunate that no one has died since 2015, but as we get more and more measles cases, tragically, in addition of the risk of someone dying of measles directly, it increases the risk that someone will eventually develop SSPE.

“Decreasing rates of vaccination in the United States, particularly among preschool-aged children (children <5 years of age) living in inner-city areas, resulted in a resurgence in the number of cases of measles reported during 1989–1991; during this period, 55,622 cases of measles and 123 measles-associated deaths were reported.”

Bellini et al on Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis: More Cases of This Fatal Disease Are Prevented by Measles Immunization than Was Previously Recognized

Remember, there were at least 12 extra SSPE deaths following the large measles outbreaks of the late 1980s.

Will we see any after the rise in the cases the last few years?

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and obviously necessary.

Don’t risk a complication of measles. Don’t risk getting SSPE.

More on SSPE Deaths

Titers for Vaccine vs Natural Immunity

It probably seems like a silly question, but can titers help you tell the difference between vaccine induced vs natural immunity?

After all, you should know if you had the disease naturally or if you had a vaccine, right?

Titers for Vaccine vs Natural Immunity

Still, there might be situations in which you need to know if someone has immunity and you want to know if it was vaccine induced or if they earned their immunity naturally.

Unfortunately, you typically can’t, especially as most vaccines mimic having a natural infection.

In a few situations, if a vaccine targets a very specific part of a virus or bacteria, it may be able possible to tell the difference between vaccine-induced and natural immunity though.

anti-HBs is positive with natural infections and vaccination, but only anti-HBc is positive after a natural infection.

The hepatitis B vaccine, for example, is derived from HBsAg particles, so won’t induce antibodies against hepatitis B core antigen or other hepatitis B proteins.

Most other vaccines, like MMR and Varicella, aren’t so specific. Titers might just show that you are immune, although titer tests aren’t always sensitive enough to pick up vaccine-induced immunity. That’s why, expect for a few high risk situations, titer testing isn’t usually recommended.

More on Titers for Vaccine vs Natural Immunity

An Unvaccinated Child in Oregon Recently Had Tetanus

I recently wrote about how there was a case of diphtheria in Oklahoma last year.

It was a good reminder that we aren’t just seeing measles outbreaks these days.

Need another reminder?

An Unvaccinated Child in Oregon Recently Had Tetanus

An unvaccinated 6-year-old in Oregon developed tetanus.

Can an unvaccinated child really get tetanus after a toe nail injury?
In a similar case, an unvaccinated 4-year-old got severe tetanus after a minor toe nail injury. (CC BY 3.0)

“In 2017, a boy aged 6 years who had received no immunizations sustained a forehead laceration while playing outdoors on a farm; the wound was cleaned and sutured at home. Six days later, he had episodes of crying, jaw clenching, and involuntary upper extremity muscle spasms, followed by arching of the neck and back (opisthotonus) and generalized spasticity. Later that day, at the onset of breathing difficulty, the parents contacted emergency medical services, who air-transported him directly to a tertiary pediatric medical center. The boy subsequently received a diagnosis of tetanus and required approximately 8 weeks of inpatient care, followed by rehabilitation care, before he was able to resume normal activities.”

Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child — Oregon, 2017

Many folks will recognize the “jaw clenching” from the alternative name for tetanus – lockjaw.

“Upon hospital arrival, the child had jaw muscle spasms (trismus). He was alert and requested water but was unable to open his mouth; respiratory distress caused by diaphragmatic and laryngeal spasm necessitated sedation, endotracheal intubation, and mechanical ventilation. Tetanus immune globulin (3,000 units) and diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) were administered for presumed tetanus. He was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit and cared for in a darkened room with ear plugs and minimal stimulation (stimulation increased the intensity of his spasms). Intravenous metronidazole was initiated, and the scalp laceration was irrigated and debrided.”

Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child — Oregon, 2017

Wait, wasn’t it too late to vaccinate him at this point?

Of course not.

Remember, tetanus vaccine doesn’t actually kill the tetanus bacteria. Or even prevent a tetanus infection, believe it or not. The tetanus shot is a toxoid vaccine directed against the toxin that the tetanus bacteria makes.

Once tetanus spores germinate, the bacteria have to grow and then produce exotoxins. The exotoxins then have to travel to different sites in your nervous system, where they act as neurotoxins.

At this point, although he was treated with antibiotics and tetanus immune globulin, there is still a chance that spores will germinate and becteria will eventually grow and produce more exotoxin. Getting the vaccine helps ensure that you will make some of your own antibody to fight them.

“His opisthotonus worsened, and he developed autonomic instability (hypertension, tachycardia, and body temperatures of 97.0°F–104.9°F [36.1°C–40.5°C]). He was treated with multiple continuous intravenous medication infusions to control his pain and blood pressure, and with neuromuscular blockade to manage his muscle spasms. A tracheostomy was placed on hospital day 5 for prolonged ventilator support. Starting on hospital day 35, the patient tolerated a 5-day wean from neuromuscular blockade. On day 44, his ventilator support was discontinued, and he tolerated sips of clear liquids. On day 47, he was transferred to the intermediate care unit. Three days later, he walked 20 feet with assistance. On day 54, his tracheostomy was removed, and 3 days later, he was transferred to a rehabilitation center for 17 days.”

Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child — Oregon, 2017

And since you don’t develop natural immunity to tetanus, getting vaccinated helps protect you from future exposures.

After an episode like this, you wouldn’t want to risk your child getting this sick again, would you?

“The boy required 57 days of inpatient acute care, including 47 days in the intensive care unit. The inpatient charges totaled $811,929 (excluding air transportation, inpatient rehabilitation, and ambulatory follow-up costs). One month after inpatient rehabilitation, he returned to all normal activities, including running and bicycling. Despite extensive review of the risks and benefits of tetanus vaccination by physicians, the family declined the second dose of DTaP and any other recommended immunizations.”

Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child — Oregon, 2017

Well, most of us wouldn’t…

Hopefully other parents learn a lesson though.

Remember, you can wait too long to vaccinate your kids. You can skip or delay a vaccine long enough that they end up getting measles, tetanus, diphtheria, or meningococcemia, etc., before you get caught up.

More on Tetanus In An Unvaccinated Child in Oregon