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Disneyland Not Alone In Mass Measles Outbreak

Attention is on "The Happiest Place on Earth" but it is not the largest case in recent months.

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Outbreak in the US Heartland

From Mickey to the measles in just a matter of days; that is the case for more than 100 patients in several states. All of the infected visited or came in contact with someone who had played or worked at Disneyland during December. The reports about the outbreak have been widespread and well noted, with some making wry parallels with the breathless Ebola news coverage in the US as the epidemic burned through Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone:

Our thoughts are also with the measles-ravaged country America. I hope we are screening them before they come to Africa.

— Elnathan John (@elnathan) February 1, 2015

Ebola may be the more deadly of the epidemics, but measles is easier to spread via casual contact. A sneeze or cough from an infected person can send virus-filled droplets into the air- each one with the potential to infect. The key to avoiding an outbreak? Public health experts say containment will rely largely on how many unvaccinated people agree to get a measles shot.

What if they refuse?

One needs only to look toward middle America for the answer. From March through July of 2014, measles burned through the close-knit Amish community in Ohio, stretching over several counties. The outbreak began with infected missionaries returning from the Philippines to their deeply religious and largely unvaccinated communities. A staggering 382 people fell ill over the five month period; the patients ranging from 6 months to 53 years of age. According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), though the infected numbered in the hundreds, only 9 sought hospitalization during the outbreak.

The low number of hospitalizations may have more to do with the insular community than the severity of the illness, which can have serious effects if not treated. On their website, ODH describes the painful and sometimes deadly infection:

Measles symptoms begin with fever, runny nose, cough, loss of appetite, and red, watery eyes for about four days, followed by a rash. The rash usually lasts 5-6 days and begins at the hairline, moves to the face and upper neck, and proceeds down the body. The disease can also cause severe illness and complications, such as diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis (brain infection), seizures, and death. These complications are more common among children under 5 years of age and adults over 20 years of age.There is specific treatment for the measles.

So why did the Ohio case get relatively little attention by the news media? Unlike the Disneyland outbreak, the Ohio infection was well contained though the numbers of sick people were astonishing. Amish country is not a place visited by tens of thousands of people of all ages from various corners of the globe. Speaking to the Associated Press, Dr. Gregory Wallace of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it best: "[it] stayed contained within those communities, and outside people said, `Well, it doesn't really affect me.' What's different with this one is more people can relate to Disneyland".

It's looking like lawmakers can relate as well, as politicians scramble to handle the pressure to speak for or against vaccines in the wake of this latest outbreak. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for religious or health reasons have been pushing for their lawmakers to speak up, and some have done just that; but with an opposite effect. The AP reports California lawmakers are looking to get rid of personal belief exemptions and require all school aged children to be vaccinated unless the vaccines themselves would endanger the child's life. Mississippi and West Virginia have similar strict vaccination rules on the books.

Information about the measles and vaccines can be found on the CDC website at:

http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccines/MMR/MMR.html

Follow the writer on Twitter (@KimNewsome)!

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