Tag: hepatitis A outbreaks

Vaccine-Preventable Diseases – Year in Review 2018

Does it seem like we are moving in the wrong direction?

The eradication of smallpox shows just what vaccines can do!
The eradication of smallpox shows just what vaccines can do!

No, smallpox isn’t coming back, but many other vaccine-preventable diseases are.

Vaccine-Preventable Diseases – Year in Review 2018

With the availability of new vaccines and the expanded use of other vaccines, many of us were hopeful of the progress that was being made against vaccine-preventable diseases so far this decade.

Remember, it was just four years ago that the WHO certified India as a polio free country. And after years of declining numbers of wild polio cases, 2018 will be the first year with a higher number of cases than the previous year.

This hasn’t been a good year for measles either. The WHO Region of the Americas has lost its status as having eliminated measles!

In Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, endemic transmission of measles has been re-established, with spread to neighbouring countries. As a result, the Region has lost its status as having eliminated measles. The Regional Technical Advisory Group, which met in July 2018, emphasized the importance of Regional action and an urgent public health response to ensure re-verification of measles elimination in Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Meeting of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, October 2018 – Conclusions and recommendations

After years of declining rates, global measles cases and deaths began to jump in 2017, a trend that continued in 2018.

“Outbreaks in North America and in Europe emphasize that measles can easily spread even in countries with mature health systems. Due to ongoing outbreaks, measles is again considered endemic in Germany and Russia.”

2018 Assessment Report of the Global Vaccine Action Plan

And no, this isn’t just a problem in other parts of the world.

Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.
Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.

More cases in other parts of the world mean more cases in the United States because unvaccinated folks travel out of the country and bring these diseases home with them, getting others sick.

But it wasn’t just measles outbreaks, including the second largest number of cases in 22 years, that we were seeing in 2018:

  • chicken pox – although the 41 cases involving a North Carolina Waldorf school got the most attention, there were at least 6,892 cases of chicken pox last year, which continues to trend down from recent highs of over 15,000 in 2010
  • hepatitis A – clusters of outbreaks in 15 states with at least 11,166 cases, many deaths, with exposures at popular restaurants
  • mumps – from recent highs of over 6,000 cases the last few years, we were “back down” to just over 2,000 mumps cases in 2018
  • pertussis – cases were also down in 2018, with a preliminary count of about 13,439 cases last year
  • meningococcal disease – isolated outbreaks continued last year, with cases at Smith College, Colgate University, and San Diego State University

And of course, we had one of the worst flu seasons in some time last year, with 185 pediatric flu deaths.

Fortunately, there were no cases of diphtheria, neonatal tetanus, polio, or congenital rubella syndrome. At least not in the United States.

Why are some disease counts down when so many folks say the anti-vaccine movement is more active than ever?

Remember, the great majority of people vaccinate and protect their kids!

And vaccines work!

It is best to think of the anti-vaccine movement, which has always been around, as a very vocal minority that is just pushing propaganda to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks.
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad these diseases are, allow themselves to be influenced by anti-vaccine propaganda, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

Also remember that many of these diseases occurred in multi-year cycles in the pre-vaccine era. When an up year hits a cluster of unvaccinated kids, we get bigger outbreaks. And then more folks get vaccinated, starting the cycle all over again. At least until we finally get the disease under better control or finally eradicated.

Want to avoid getting a vaccine-preventable disease this year?

Get vaccinated and protected and encourage everyone else to get vaccinated too.

More on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases – Year in Review 2018

How Do They Figure out Who Starts an Outbreak?

As we continue to see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the post-vaccination era, it is important that these outbreaks be quickly contained.

But it is important to understand that these outbreaks don’t simply stop on there own. A lot of work goes into containing them.

Working to Contain an Outbreak

And that work containing outbreaks is expensive. Much more expensive than simply getting vaccinated.

For example, the total personnel time and total direct cost to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene responding to and controlling the 2013 outbreak in NYC were calculated to be at least $394,448 and 10,054 personnel hours.

Why it is so expensive is easy to see once you understand all of the work that goes into containing an outbreak. Work that is done by your local health department as soon as a case of measles, or other vaccine-preventable disease, is suspected.

Work that, for a measles outbreak for example, includes:

  • initiating a case and contact investigation
  • quickly confirming that the patient actually has measles, including testing
  • assessing the potential for further spread – identifying contacts who aren’t immune to measles and are at risk for getting measles
  • isolating people with measles and quarantining contacts who aren’t immune to measles for at least 21 days after the start of the measles rash in the last case of measles in the area, including everyone who is intentionally unvaccinated
  • offering postexposure vaccination, a dose of the MMR vaccine within 72 hours of exposure to contacts who are not fully immune so that they can get some protection maybe don’t have to be quarantined
  • having targeted immunization clinics in the affected population, such as a school or church, to get as many people vaccinated as possible, even after 72 hours, so they have can be protected in the future

That’s an awful lot of work.

Work that continues until the outbreak officially ends.

Finding the Source of an Outbreak

Another big part of the work that goes on to contain an outbreak is identifying the source of the outbreak.

Was it someone who had recently been traveling overseas, a visitor from out of the country, or someone that was already part of an another outbreak?

Why is that so important?

If you don’t find the source of the outbreak, then you can’t be sure that you have found all of the people that have been exposed, and the outbreak might go on for an extended period of time.

And no, it is never shedding, a vaccine strain, or a recently vaccinated child that causes these measles outbreaks.

Anatomy of a Measles Outbreak

A closer look at the measles outbreak in San Diego, California in 2008 can help folks understand even better what happens during one of these outbreaks.

A 7-year-old who is unvaccinated because his parents have a personal belief vaccine exemption travels to Switzerland with his family.

A week after returning home from the trip, he gets sick, but returns to school after a few days. He then develops a rash and sees his family physician, followed by his pediatrician, and then makes a trip to the emergency room because he continues to have a high fever and rash (classic measles symptoms).

He is eventually diagnosed with measles, but not before eleven other children are infected with measles. This includes two of his siblings, five children in his school, and four children who were exposed at his pediatrician’s office.

It is not as simple as that though.

During this measles outbreak:

  • Three of the children who became infected were younger than 12 months of age, and were therefore too young to have been vaccinated
  • Eight of the nine children who were at least 12 months old were intentionally unvaccinated because they also had personal belief vaccine exemptions
  • About 70 children were placed under voluntary quarantine for 21 days after their last exposure because they were exposed to one of the measles cases and either didn’t want to be vaccinated or were too young
  • One of the infants with measles traveled to Hawaii, raising fears that the measles outbreak could spread there too

All together, 839 people were exposed to the measles virus.

This family didn't have a choice about their son getting sick - he was too young to be vaccinated when he was exposed to an unvaccinated child with measles.
This family didn’t have a choice about their son getting sick – he was too young to be vaccinated when he was exposed to an unvaccinated child with measles.

At least one of them was a 10-month-old infant who got infected at his well child checkup, was too young to have gotten the MMR vaccine yet, and ended up spending three days in the hospital – time his parents spent “fearing we might lose our baby boy.”

The parents of this 10-month-old weren’t looking for a vaccine exemption and didn’t want their child to catch measles, a life-threatening, vaccine-preventable disease. Instead, they were counting on herd immunity to protect him until their child could be protected with an MMR vaccine. They were one of “those who come into contact with them” that got caught up in a decision of some other parents to not vaccinate their child.

The kids who are at risk and get a vaccine-preventable disease because they are too young to get vaccinated, have an immune system problem that prevents them from getting immunized or their vaccine from working, and the kids who simply didn’t get protected from a vaccine are the hidden costs of these measles outbreaks that we don’t hear about often enough.

What to Know About Finding the Source of an Outbreak

Without all of the hard work that goes into containing outbreaks, the outbreaks of measles, pertussis, mumps, hepatitis A, and other vaccine preventable diseases would be even bigger.

More on Finding the Source of an Outbreak

 

Are More People Dying of Viral Hepatitis?

We have two vaccines to protect folks against viral hepatitis.

The first, against hepatitis B, was developed in 1981, but was replaced by an improved vaccine in 1989. It wasn’t added to the immunization schedule until 1991 though. Next came the hepatitis A vaccine in 1996.

Are More People Dying of Viral Hepatitis?

Although we don’t often think of them that way, these types of hepatitis can cause life threatening infections. Hepatitis B can even cause cancer!

Are deaths from hepatitis really skyrocketing?
Are deaths from hepatitis really skyrocketing?

So why would more people be dying of hepatitis A and B after we developed vaccines to help prevent them, a new idea being pushed by anti-vaccine folks?

They aren’t.

For example, there were 31,582 cases of hepatitis A and 142 deaths in 1995, just before the vaccine was approved. In 2016, there were just over 2,000 cases and 70 deaths.

What about hepatitis B?

The record high for yearly new cases was in 1985. In 2016, we are near record lows, with 3,218 new cases and 1,698 deaths.

Why are people still dying of hepatitis B?

Because even though far fewer people are getting new infections, there are still an estimated 850,000 to 2.2 million adults in the United States who already have chronic hepatitis B infections.

“…rates of acute Hepatitis B in the United States have declined by approximately 82% since 1991.”

Hepatitis B FAQs for the Public

So how can they say that hepatitis deaths are skyrocketing?

It’s easy. It is classic anti-vaccine propaganda. To fool folks, they talk about “all strains” of hepatitis and not just vaccine-preventable types.

Remember, there are multiple types of hepatitis, including A, B, C, D, and E. These are all caused by different viruses, even though they all cause hepatitis.

And since 2006, the incidence of hepatitis C has been climbing sharply. Tragically, so have the number of deaths. In 2016, there were 18,153 deaths from hepatitis C, which is not yet vaccine-preventable.

Hepatitis deaths are increasing.

All strains? Nope. Just the non-vaccine preventable strains. Deaths from hepatitis A and hepatitis B have greatly decreased since the pre-vaccine era.

All ages? Nope. Children have been protected from rising hepatitis deaths, as they are not typically at high risk for hepatitis C, which is causing the surge in deaths, and they should be vaccinated and protected against hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

What to Know About Viral Hepatitis Deaths

Viral hepatitis deaths are increasing, but only for non-vaccine preventable strains.

More on Viral Hepatitis Deaths

 

How to Avoid a Quarantine During an Outbreak at Your School

Believe it or not, hundreds of kids get caught up in quarantines for vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States each year.

Quarantines were routine in the pre-vaccine era.
Quarantines were routine during pre-vaccine era epidemics.

Wait, what?

Caught up in quarantines for vaccine-preventable diseases?

Then why do we have vaccines?

How to Avoid a Quarantine During an Outbreak at Your School

Is it fair that unvaccinated students need to stay home when there is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease?
Is it fair that unvaccinated students need to stay home when there is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease?

As you have probably already guessed, these aren’t usually vaccinated kids that are getting sick or quarantined in these outbreaks of measles, meningococcemia, and chicken pox, etc.

That’s right, they are unvaccinated.

Typically intentionally unvaccinated, although they are sometimes too young to be vaccinated or may have a medical exemption.

And that brings up to a few very easy ways to avoid getting quarantined during an outbreak:

  1. make sure you are always up-to-date on all of your vaccines
  2. if you think that you have natural immunity (already had the disease) or were vaccinated, but don’t have your immunization records, then getting a titer test might keep you out of quarantine if you can prove that you are immune
  3. get vaccinated, if possible, at the first sign of the outbreak, which might help you avoid quarantine in the case of measles and chicken pox

“Persons who continue to be exempted from or who refuse measles vaccination should be excluded from the school, child care, or other institutions until 21 days after rash onset in the last case of measles.”

Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

That’s right, especially in the case of measles, you can often avoid being quarantined if you simply get vaccinated.

Unvaccinated children exposed to measles are quarantined for at least 21 days.
Unvaccinated children exposed to measles are typically quarantined for at least 21 days.

Why are quarantines important?

Can’t you just isolate yourself if you get sick?

The problem with that strategy is that you are often contagious before you develop symptoms. That’s especially true of measles, when you likely won’t even realize that you have measles until you get the measles rash, after having a high fever for three to five days. That’s why people with measles are often seen at clinics and emergency rooms multiple times, exposing many people, before they are finally diagnosed. It is the classic signs of a rash with continued fever that helps to make the diagnosis.

Without quarantines of unvaccinated people, especially those who are known exposures to other cases, today’s outbreaks would be even bigger and harder to control.

If you don’t want to take the risk of being quarantined and missing weeks or months of school or work, then don’t take the risk of being unvaccinated. Tragically, that’s not the only risk you take when you skip or delay your vaccines. In addition to getting sick, you also risk getting others sick, including those who didn’t have a choice about getting vaccinated yet.

What to Know About Avoiding Quarantines During an Outbreak

The easiest way to avoid getting caught up in a quarantine for a vaccine-preventable disease is to simply make sure your kids are up-to-date on all of their vaccines.

More on Avoiding Quarantines During an Outbreak