The news that Texas health officials have issued a measles alert for Tarrant County is cause for concern among parents. Especially, as thousands of children begin a new school year.
The measles alert combined with a rise in pertussis (or whooping cough) in the state worries Donald Murphey, M.D., medical director of Infectious Disease at Cook Children’s.
“It’s alarming to see the rise in these diseases that were so common prior to the advent of effective vaccines, but largely disappeared with immunization,” Dr. Murphey said. “It’s frustrating too because we have safe vaccines that prevent these diseases. The solution is for kids, teens, and adults to get immunized.”
Dr. Murphey is a proponent of cocooning. Cocooning is a proactive approach to protecting the infant. Before the baby is born, everyone who will come near the child on a regular basis receives a pertussis vaccination, including the new parents, siblings, grandparents and anyone else who will be in close proximity of the baby.
For cocooning to work, all those who are in close contact to the newborn should receive the Tdap shot (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis). To avoid pertussis, children should receive one booster shot of diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) at age 4. Older school-age children should get the Tdap booster after their 11th birthday.
Measles is a highly, dangerous, but preventable disease. Tarrant County Public Health (TCPH) reported a total of 10 cases of measles. Reports say that the at least some of the cases may relate to one person traveling to a foreign country and bringing back the infection. At present there is a large outbreak of measles in Europe due to families not immunizing their kids. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports 27,000 cases of measles in Europe. Measles can be the cause of severe pneumonia and can cause encephalitis. Measles has been imported to the US over 20 times in the last couple years from Europe. Parents can stop their children from catching measles through the use of two doses of the MMR vaccine.
Pertussis, a common childhood illness, can be especially dangerous to infants because the bacteria create a toxin that affects the heart and lungs. Pertussis can be fatal to infants.
“We thought we were on our way to eradicating these diseases,” Dr. Murphey said. “Our goal was that these diseases would be completely controlled by the year 2015. But misinformation and fear about immunization has prevented that from happening. It’s a very sad situation because children suffer, but it can be much worse if segments of the population refuse to receive their vaccines.