Tag: measles myths

When is Measles Season?

For a while, especially once we eliminated the endemic spread of measles, we weren’t thinking about measles seasons anymore.

In addition to the recent rise in measles cases, this slide shows the patterns of measles seasons in different parts of the world.
In addition to the recent rise in measles cases, this slide shows the patterns of measles seasons in different parts of the world.

Unfortunately, with ongoing outbreaks and rising cases, many people are asking again – just when is measles season?

When is Measles Season?

Traditionally, the time when measles case counts are the highest occurs:

  • during the late winter and early spring (temperate climates, like the United States)
  • after the rainy season (tropical climates)
  • when kids are in school

So just like flu season, it’s always measles season somewhere…

And in areas of the world where measles is still highly endemic, you can expect cycles of larger measles epidemics every 1 to 4 years.

Can you guess why?

“As higher uniform population immunity is achieved the scale of epidemics, both their duration and absolute number of cases, progressively decreases. Epidemic frequency simultaneously decreases with increasing time intervals between epidemics. Another uniform feature as elimination is approached is the loss of epidemic seasonality.”

Durrheim et al on Measles – The epidemiology of elimination

I’ll give you a hint – there is nothing different about the measles virus during those years.

Eventually though, as the number of people susceptible to measles builds up, there is the opportunity for bigger outbreaks. Of course, that doesn’t happen if most people are vaccinated and protected.

When is Measles Season in the United States?

What about in the United States in the post-vaccine era?

Visiting a place with a lot of measles, especially if you aren't vaccinated and protected, increases the risk that you will bring measles home with you and start an outbreak.
Visiting a place with a lot of measles, especially if you aren’t vaccinated and protected, increases the risk that you will bring measles home with you and start an outbreak.

We don’t really have a measles season, as all of our cases are now imported from other parts of the world.

  1. Where and when are folks traveling?
  2. Where is measles on the rise?

That’s when we will see more measles cases here.

“Source countries included Philippines (14 cases), Ukraine (8), Israel (5), Thailand (3), Vietnam (2), Germany (2), and one importation each from Algeria, France, India, Lithuania, Russia, and the United Kingdom.”

Increase in Measles Cases — United States, January 1–April 26, 2019

In the early part of 2019, we saw a lot of cases because unvaccinated travelers were returning from Philippines, Ukraine, and Israel, countries in peak measles season.

Are Europe's measles outbreaks slowing down yet?
Are Europe’s measles outbreaks slowing down yet?

As cases in those countries hopefully slow down over the summer, unfortunately, we might see a rise in other parts of the world.

Of course, there is an easy way to end our measles seasons once and for all.

Two doses of MMR is your best protection against measles.

Get vaccinated and protected, especially before traveling out of the country.

More on Measles Season?

Vaccine Induced Measles

Why are anti-vaccine folks still pushing the idea that vaccine induced measles is a thing?

This study is not about vaccine induced measles.
This study is not about vaccine induced measles.

In yet another example of anti-vaccine folks inappropriately using a real vaccine study, the ironically named Physicians for Informed Consent continues to push the idea that many measles cases are caused by the MMR vaccine.

Vaccine Induced Measles

They aren’t…

The study they are citing, Rapid Identification of Measles Virus Vaccine Genotype by Real-Time PCR, simply talks about how to “distinguish between measles cases and vaccine reactions.”

“During measles outbreak investigations, rapid detection of measles vaccine reactions is necessary to avoid unnecessary public health interventions.”

Rapid Identification of Measles Virus Vaccine Genotype by Real-Time PCR

While many of these people do test positive for a vaccine strain, they do not actually have measles. They typically just have a rash and/or fever, with a concern that they might have measles because they are in the middle of a measles outbreak.

But if they have a rash and fever and test positive for measles, even if it is a vaccine strain, why shouldn’t we just say that they have measles?

Because measles isn’t just about having a rash and fever. It is having a specific pattern of a high fever for 3 or 4 days, then developing a rash, and continuing to have a fever. People with measles also typically have other symptoms, including irritability, cough, coryza, and conjunctivitis.

Confirmed Case Counts in Measles Outbreaks

Still, since these measles vaccine reactions can get confused with real measles cases, do they inflate the measles case counts in our outbreaks?

Testing helps to make sure that only real cases of measles are included in outbreak case counts.
Testing helps to make sure that only real cases of measles are included in outbreak case counts.

They don’t.

While we occasionally do see a “confirmed” case later change as further testing is done, it is important to realize that most cases are thoroughly evaluated to see if they are in fact really measles.

Most case counts are made up of confirmed cases and don’t include suspected cases that might be someone who has a rash after their MMR vaccine or some other viral infection.

“Vaccine‐associated measles is a possible, but extremely rare event.”

Sood et al on Vaccine‐associated measles in an immunocompetent child

Anyway, vaccine induced or vaccine associated measles is extremely rare.

What about the fully vaccinated woman in New York who developed measles, getting four other people sick in 2011?

Didn’t she have vaccine induced measles?

Nope.

“This is the first report of measles transmission from a twice-vaccinated individual with documented secondary vaccine failure. The clinical presentation and laboratory data of the index patient were typical of measles in a naive individual. “

Rosen et al on Outbreak of Measles Among Persons With Prior Evidence of Immunity, New York City, 2011

She had the D4 strain of measles – not a vaccine strain.

Who Gets Measles?

Most people who get measles are unvaccinated, often intentionally unvaccinated.

Trying to get you to think that many people in an outbreak have a vaccine strain is just another propaganda technique to scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids.

Don’t fall for it!

Two doses of MMR are the best protection against measles.

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

More on Vaccine Induced Measles

How Many People Have Died from Measles in 2019?

As measles cases climb, some folks are interested in just one thing, how many people have died from measles this year?

A lot of people are dying from measles this year.
A lot of people are dying from measles this year.

The rest of us?

We understand that as we see more and more cases, it simply increases the chances that someone might eventually die.

How Many People Have Died from Measles in 2019?

So far, we have been very lucky that there have been no measles deaths, even as we pass 1,000 cases.

Not that 1,000 cases is some magic number where you start to see deaths.

Consider that we only had 188 cases in 2015, when we had the last measles death in the United States. That year, a woman got caught up in a small outbreak in Washington.

Where Are People Dying of Measles in 2019?

There are also many countries with rather small numbers of cases that are seeing measles deaths.

The last death in France, in April 2019, occurred after only 852 cases were reported.

In Romania, the first death of 2019, in January, came after just 133 cases.

Measles acts quickly. Do your part to protect yourself and others.

And since the outbreaks in Europe started in 2016, there have been deaths in:

  • Bulgaria – only 416 cases
  • Portugal – only 202 cases
  • Spain – only 457 cases
  • Switzerland – two deaths and only 197 cases!

Of course, there are more deaths in countries that are seeing more cases.

Again, since 2016:

CountryDeathsCases
Romania5917,850
Greece43,270
Italy139,277
France44,138
UK12,000
Germany12,000
Israel24,256 (since 2018)
Ukraine1752,034 (2019)
Serbia155,797 (since Oct 2017)
Brazil1219,036 (since 2018)
Tunisia303,141 (2019)
Malaysia62,129 (since 2017)
Thailand235,893 (since 2018)
Guinea141,359 cases (2019)

And a lot more deaths in some countries:

  • Madagascar – at least 1,233 reported deaths among 122,840 registered cases
  • Philippines – at least 389 deaths in 2019, with over 30,000 cases.
  • Venezuela – at least 134 deaths since 2017, with over 9,585 cases
  • Democratic Republic of Congo – at least 1,460 deaths this year, with over 84,000 cases
  • Nigeria – at least 89 deaths this year, with nearly 29,000 cases
  • Chadat least 191 deaths this year, with over 18,000 cases

Measles is on the rise.

Measles deaths are on the rise too. While the risk of complications of measles can be reduced with vitamin A treatment, that doesn’t eliminate them. And the benefit is mostly in those who are already vitamin A deficient. Vitamin A has a much more modest effect in developed countries, where measles deaths still occur.

What to reduce your child’s risk of dying from measles?

Get them vaccinated and protected.

Tragically, this all comes after we were making progress towards measles elimination, reaching a record low for global cases and deaths just a few years ago.

How will we respond? An even stronger effort to finally get measles under control? Or continued worsening, with more cases and more deaths?

More on How Many People Have Died from Measles in 2019

How Could Seven of My Vaccinated Kids Have the Measles Right Now?

Seven vaccinated kids with measles?!?

But doesn’t the measles rash typically show up after three to five days of fever?

Wait, that couldn’t really happen, could it? Seven vaccinated kids with measles in one family?

How Could Seven of My Vaccinated Kids Have the Measles Right Now?

While anything is possible, this story is very improbable once you look at the details…

“When her 12-year-old son spiked a fever and started complaining of a sore throat right before Passover, Mrs. Pearl (not her real name) wasn’t worried. She confidently crossed off a host of possible infections that he was fully vaccinated for.

She thought he had strep throat, like two of his siblings.

They headed to urgent care for a rapid strep test, but the result was negative. Undeterred, she put her son on antibiotics at the nurse’s recommendation, and sent her son to bed.

He’d worsened by morning.

He woke feeling feverish and broken out in a rash.”

Jennifer Margulis

Could that be measles?

He ended up testing positive for measles, even though he was fully vaccinated. Only two days of fever before he developed his rash though, and no word that the fever continued, as you would expect with measles…

“Not long after, Mrs. Pearl’s 10-year-old broke out in a similar rash.

This child didn’t spike a fever but his breathing was labored and he complained that his eyes hurt.

He also tested positive for the measles.”

Jennifer Margulis

Although they all could have been exposed to someone else, it is important to note that the incubation period for measles is 7 to 14 days. The “not long after” scenario sounds like too short a time to get “measles” from his brother. Also, no fever, which would be very strange for measles…

But the other five kids had more classic symptoms of measles, right?

Nope.

“Of the seven other children that Mrs. Pearl had tested—all of whom had been fully vaccinated—five more showed no immunity to measles.”

Jennifer Margulis

What about the negative titer tests?

That’s actually not unusual after measles vaccination. It’s not proof or any kind of indication that the vaccine didn’t work. It has been long known that most vaccinated people who have negative measles titers will show an anamnestic immune response if they get another dose of MMR.

What does that mean? It means that they were likely immune, even with the negative titer.

“In the event that a HCP who has 2 documented doses of MMR vaccine is tested serologically and determined to have negative or equivocal measles titer results, it is not recommended that the person receive an additional dose of MMR vaccine. Such persons should be considered to have presumptive evidence of measles immunity. Documented age-appropriate vaccination supersedes the results of subsequent serologic testing.”

Immunization of Health-Care Personnel: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices

In fact, we don’t routinely check titers after MMR, at least not for measles.

And their symptoms?

“Two hours after getting the MMR booster, Mrs. Pearl’s 16-year-old spiked a 102-degree fever and broke out in a measles rash.

Four days later her three other children, all of whom had received the MMR booster, all had measles rashes, canker sores in their mouths, gastrointestinal problems, and lethargy.”

Jennifer Margulis

Canker sores with measles? Kids with measles get Koplik spots, but no one describes them as canker sores.

Fever and a rash developing at the same time?

Yeah, none of that sounds like measles. At all.

Remember, the classic symptoms of measles include 3 to 5 days of a high fever with cough, coryza, and conjunctivitis, followed by a rash, with continued fever.

“According to Mrs. Pearl, the health department official also told her that measles vaccine failure is common and that about half the people getting measles in the current measles clusters in Brooklyn are fully vaccinated.”

Jennifer Margulis

Actually, only 27 of the 566 people in Brooklyn with measles have been known to be fully vaccinated, with two doses of MMR. How much less than half is that? It is less than 5% of cases.

Measles vaccine failure is not common at all.

Why Did They Say That Seven of My Vaccinated Kids Have Measles?

So how do you explain what happened to this family?

Besides the likelihood that they had another, more common virus causing their symptoms? With mouth ulcers and diarrhea, like maybe Coxsackie virus?

Do you really need another explanation?

How do you explain the positive measles tests?

They were almost certainly a false positive.

“The test kits in use have been shown to have high sensitivity and specificity. However, cross-reactions with other viral diseases, e.g. rubella and Parvovirus, may occur.”

Dietz et al on The laboratory confirmation of suspected measles cases in settings of low measles transmission: conclusions from the experience in the Americas.

They didn’t state which test was done, but it is important to note that several are available. This includes an immunoglobulin test, PCR from a throat swab, and PCR from a urine specimen. The most accurate testing is done by the CDC.

“Detection of specific IgM antibodies in a serum sample collected within the first few days of rash onset can provide presumptive evidence of a current or recent measles virus infection. However, because no assay is 100% specific, serologic testing of non-measles cases using any assay will occasionally produce false positive IgM results.”

Serologic Testing for Measles in Low Prevalence Setting

Did they have confirmatory tests, after their initial positive test? Were they done at a state lab? Did all of her other kids test positive for measles?

“She’s angry at the measles vaccine failure and worried about her family members, especially her pregnant daughter.”

Jennifer Margulis

She should be angry at folks pushing misininformation in her community.

“I used to think people who don’t vaccinate were crazy,” Mrs. Pearl says. “Now I’m not so sure. Maybe they’re right. Maybe my body doesn’t want to take garbage. Something is a red flag. After my story, I’m not so sure where the measles started. I’m legit. I did vaccinate. All my kids are up to date. Children ages 22 to 7 all getting the measles?”

Jennifer Margulis

Something is indeed a red flag. To get to the bottom of it, Mrs. Pearl should revisit the idea that her kids really had measles.

More on Vaccinated Kids with Measles