Measles Threat a Serious Public Health Concern; Immunization is Key to Stop Spread of Highly Contagious Disease (02/04/2015)

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 From the Office of the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Gale Burstein

February 4, 2015                             

CONTACT: Mary C. St. Mary/Mary.StMary@Erie.Gov

Phone: 716.858.4941/ Mobile: 716.253.3925

 Measles Threat a Serious Public Health Concern


Immunization is Key to Stop Spread of Highly Contagious Disease

ERIE COUNTY, NY— Since the recent surge of measles cases in the United States now includes cased in New York State, Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Commissioner of Health (ECDOH), is reminding residents of the critical importance of being vaccinated to protect the spread of this dangerous disease.

“Measles is a serious, highly contagious disease that is not just limited to young children,” states Dr. Burstein. “Although measles is usually considered a childhood disease, it can be contracted at any age. While many Erie County and Western New York residents have likely already received measles vaccinations, with the recent nationwide outbreak at the highest level in years, the Department of Health is taking the opportunity to urge everyone to check with their healthcare provider to make sure they and all of their family members’ immunizations are up-to-date. Unfortunately, measles is resurgent today, mostly because of the growing number of people who refuse to vaccinate their children or delay those vaccinations.”          

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, which means it is no longer native to the United States but continues to be brought back by international travelers. The last active case of measles in Erie County was identified in 2010. Public health officials suspect that an unvaccinated person who was infected overseas and then returned to the United States was most likely the source of the recent outbreak. "Anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk of getting infected when they travel internationally," according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[i]  "They can bring measles to the United States and infect others. Unvaccinated people put themselves and others at risk for measles and its serious complications."

Dr. Burstein added: “People infected with measles can spread measles to others from four days before to four days after the rash appears. So a returning traveler could spread the disease and not even know it. And because measles is circulating all over the world, a traveler could get infected almost anywhere. Measles is highly contagious with a 90 percent chance of infection among people who are exposed who are not immune. Measles can spread through coughing and sneezing. The measles virus can live for up to two hours on a surface or in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed, even after the infected person has left the room.”

Children less than twelve months old typically are not vaccinated because their immune systems are not ready. And some people, children and adults alike, cannot be immunized for medical reasons. That makes both groups extremely vulnerable to the measles virus.

The single best way to prevent measles is to be vaccinated. Individuals should receive 2 doses of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to be protected.  The first dose should be given at 12-15 months of age and the second dose is routinely given at 4 to 6 years of age, but may be given as soon as 28 days after the first dose. Anyone at any age who is not immune to measles, and has no condition that would prohibit receiving the vaccine, should receive 2 doses of MMR vaccine at least 28 days apart.

Fatalities are currently rare in the United States, but one or two of every 1,000 children who contract measles will die from the disease. It is particularly harmful to persons with immunosuppression, pregnant women and very young children. More common complications include pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and deafness. Pregnant women who get the measles may give birth prematurely or deliver low-birth-weight babies. Measles kills an estimated 164,000 people around the world yearly, and there are an estimated 20 million cases worldwide.   

The ECDOH performs constant surveillance and monitoring, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to identify any potential sources of infectious diseases. Local healthcare providers are provided healthcare alerts and advisories as appropriate to keep them apprised of the latest local information and data. All healthcare providers are aware of the requirement to report any potential or verified cases of measles (or any other infectious disease) immediately to the ECDOH.

For more information

Erie County Department of Health -

New York State Department of Health –


Vaccine Safety

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention –

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