KEENE — Despite news this week that a child in Keene is confirmed to have measles, the state’s epidemiologist says the vaccine for the potentially deadly illness is very effective.
“That’s one of the reasons why we haven’t seen large outbreaks,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan.
New Hampshire’s vaccination rate for measles, typically taken in the form of the MMR vaccine that also protects from mumps and rubella, is in the mid to high 90% range for children and adolescents, Chan said. This has kept the disease from spreading, despite some rare confirmed cases, he said.
A positive test for the illness in the Keene child was confirmed Friday, Chan said, and state and local officials stepped in to investigate the origin of the illness, and to identify people who might have been exposed.
Measles is highly contagious, Chan said, and has the potential to spread quickly. The illness can be present in spaces hours after an infected person was present.
New Hampshire’s relatively high vaccination rate likely protected people earlier this year when an international traveler who later turned out to have measles rode a bus from Boston into Manchester. Though many people were likely exposed to measles, no one else got sick, Chan said.
Officials say the Keene child was at the United Church of Christ, 23 Central Square, on Sunday, May 12, and the Keene Montessori School, 125 Railroad St., on the morning of Thursday, May 16, and was then taken to the walk-in clinic at Cheshire Medical Center, 149 Emerald St., in the afternoon.
Representatives with the church and the school did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. Cheshire Medical Center has set up a special phone line for people to call to get information about measles, and the status of their own immunity to the illness. That number is 354-6705.
Chan said people who are known to have been in these locations at the same time as the infected child have been contacted, but others may have been in the same places and are not aware. Chan said people should make sure they get vaccinated if they have not already done so.
“The vaccine is very safe and very effective,” he said.
Measles was wiped out as a disease in the United States, declared eliminated by public health officials in 2000, thanks to the vaccine, Chan said. However, the illness has seen a resurgence, with more than 700 cases reported in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
According to the CDC, people not getting the vaccine has been largely to blame for the measles comeback.
“Among the 704 cases (in 2019), 503 were in unvaccinated persons and 689 occurred in U.S. residents,” the CDC reports.
Chan declined to say if the infected child had been vaccinated.
The vaccine schedule for the MMR vaccine has the first shot given to children between 12 and 15 months old, and an additional vaccine given between the ages of 4 and 6. Getting both shots as a child will result in close to 98% immunity from measles, Chan said. There are rare cases where vaccinated people can still contract the disease, but that is outside the norm, he said.
Adults vaccinated as children can sometimes get an additional MMR vaccine in case their immunity fails. Chan said people should contact their health care providers if they have concerns about their own immunity. If someone suspects they might have measles, Chan said they should contact their health care professional or emergency room before going in, to allow the facility to make arrangements to keep other patients safe.
The Division of Public Health Services has set up public inquiry lines, available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, at 721-9461 or (800) 852-3345, ext. 9461.