NewsCovering Colorado


Experts: Vaccination the best way to protect from measles

Posted at 5:54 PM, Dec 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-17 20:28:03-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — In the heart of another busy travel season, an airplane serves as a favorable place for a disease to spread.

The re-circulation of air poses a major problem to everyone on board, especially if something malicious enters the air. According to health experts, a case or outbreak this time of year isn't surprising, given the high rate of travel.

That's why last week's measles case at the Denver International Airport has doctors and experts stressing the importance of vaccinations.

Three unvaccinated children flying into Colorado were found to have the contagious virus. Now, health officials are trying to determine just how many people could have been exposed to it at DIA.

Michael DiStefano, chief medical officer at Children's Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs, said the worry with measles is really focused on young infants and unvaccinated people.

"Measles is a highly contagious virus, and so our biggest concern are those individuals who have not been vaccinated or are unable to get vaccinated," DiStefano said.

DiStefano said children under 12 months old are unable to get the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine, hence that concern.

And with some parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, those kids become a health concern. They're at risk of not only getting the virus, said El Paso County Public Health Communicable Disease Epidemiologist Haley Zachary, but they could also help spread it.

Zachary stressed the importance of getting people vaccinated.

"We have a very good vaccine for it (MMR), which can be anywhere from 93-97 percent effective in preventing disease," Zachary said. "So, anyone who does not have that vaccine is going to be at the highest risk of being impacted."

She said people that have the vaccine do not have to worry. The shots do not wear off.

Still, Zachary said now's the time to review vaccination records and stay current on those shots to help prevent a small case like this from becoming an outbreak. She referenced the concept of herd immunity, community-driven resistance to the spread of disease by increasing the number of people immune to it through vaccination, but said El Paso County is not well-positioned for it.

"We want 95 percent of our community to be vaccinated. We are under that level, so we know that transmission within El Paso County could be theoretically possible if we were to have a case of measles here," Zachary said.

County data from the 2018-2019 school year shows the kindergarten MMR rate at 87.11 percent.

The state rate, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), is just above it at 87.4 percent. Compared to other states, Colorado ranks last in the nation in MMR vaccination rate, which is why health experts worry about the outbreak potential in our state.

There are a number of symptoms parents can look for to see if their child might have measles. They include a fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes. After a few days, a rash with red bumps will appear, starting around the face and hairline and moving downward.

Zachary said parents should seek the medical opinion of their local doctor as soon as they can if these symptoms are present.