NASHUA — While there has been one diagnosis of measles reported in New Hampshire this year, there have been more than 465 cases throughout the country in 2019 — already surpassing the total number of outbreaks from all of 2018.
“If we continue at this pace, there could be triple that number,” said Dr. Douglas C. Waite, chief medical officer at Covenant Health, which owns St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua.
According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 states have reported cases of measles this year, including New Hampshire. About 465 cases were reported though April 4 compared to the total number of measles cases reported in 2018 at 372.
“I am very concerned about 2019. The public health risk is substantial with measles,” Waite said this week, stressing measles is a much more dangerous virus than influenza.
Outbreaks have already taken place in New York, Washington, California, Texas and New Jersey, with many of them linked to international travelers who brought the virus back from countries where major outbreaks are occurring.
“Thankfully we just had the one case of measles reported to us. We have not had any additional cases,” said Sarah Stanley, public information officer at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. “We believe that is because of the high vaccination rates that further prevent the spread of measles here in New Hampshire.”
Despite the high vaccination rates in the Granite State, Waite said there is an increasing number of individuals and groups of people in America who are declining to receive the vaccine.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that New York City sent public health authorities into Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood after Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to stop the measles outbreak with fines and misdemeanor charges for anyone refusing to be immunized.
“Unfortunately, measles has never been eradicated globally,” said Waite, explaining it was initially declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. Since that time, however, there were 667 cases reported in the country in 2014, a number that dropped to 86 cases in 2016.
“We have been climbing every year since then,” said Waite, adding the virus is highly contagious and can spread quickly in a community or population that has large numbers of unvaccinated people.
The CDC recommends that every individual over the age of one receive two doses of the measles vaccine, separated by one month.
The measles case in New Hampshire involved an international traveler who took the bus on Feb. 26 from South Station in Boston, Mass., to the New Hampshire Transportation Center in Manchester.
“Measles is a very contagious disease that can be transmitted through the air,” Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said at the time. According to Chan, individuals who are not able to receive the vaccine due to medical reasons have other treatments available that can help prevent the disease.
Despite the high number of cases reported in the U.S. so far this year, Waite said it is difficult to predict what the rest of the 2019 will bring.
“But I do believe our healthcare system is prepared to respond to a measles outbreak. Health officials are on top of this,” he said, stressing that the safe vaccine can prevent the development of a life-threatening infection.
According to a recent release from DHHS, measles is caused by a virus that is passed from person to person through the air when someone with the disease sneezes, coughs, or talks. The virus can remain infectious in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves the area. It is very easy for individuals who have not received the measles vaccine to contract it from someone else, said the release.
The incubation period for measles from the time of exposure is 7 to 21 days, typically 2 weeks. Symptoms of measles infection usually begin with high fever, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis several days prior to development of a body rash.