By Rachel Christian
Over the past week, four confirmed measles cases have been reported in the state, according to officials at the Florida Department of Health.
All four cases involved individuals who traveled to or exposed people from several
Florida counties to the respiratory disease, which can cause fever, cough, rash and even death.
No cases have been reported in Osceola County, but officials at the local health department are urging residents to proceed with caution all the same.
“At this point, we’re just promoting awareness,” said Nathaly Acosta, tuberculosis/epidemiology and refugee health program manager for the Florida Department of Health in Osceola County. “There is no need for panic, just caution and awareness.”
Acosta said all four reported instances have been linked back to someone bringing the disease from a foreign country and then spreading it to others.
With school out and summer in full swing, the rate of international travel is elevated, and so is the chance of contracting measles, Acosta said. Internationally, there have been measles cases reported in Europe, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Taiwan and Venezuela.
Outbreaks of measles in the U.S. have decreased dramatically since the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine rolled out in the 1960s.
In the decade before 1963 when a vaccine first became available, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control. It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year. It resulted in an estimated 400 to 500 deaths a year, 48,000 hospitalizations and 1,000 cases of brain damage.
Measles outbreaks have resurfaced in recent years across the country, and most people who contracted the illness were unvaccinated, according to the Center for Disease Control.
From Jan. 1 to April 21, 2018, 63 people from 16 states, including California, New York and Illinois, were reported to have measles.
Acosta said the last confirmed case in Osceola County occurred in 2011, when a 1-year-old girl contracted the disease.
“The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot is not a 100 percent guarantee that someone won’t possibly contract measles if they’re exposed to it,” Acosta said. “But it is extremely effective. Even if someone does happen to contract it, the chances are much greater that it will be a much milder form.”
Measles is extremely contagious and typically begins with a high fever, cough and runny nose. Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth, followed by a distinctive looking rash. The rash usually first appears on the face at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, arms, legs and feet. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104 degrees.
If someone thinks they have contracted measles, they should visit their doctor or a hospital.