Measles & COVID-19: A Dangerous Combination
Special thanks to National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) President-Elect Patricia (Patsy) A. Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP, CIC, of Children’s Minnesota for this guest blog post on the importance of measles prevention and treatment.
In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it may seem odd for public health experts to be thinking about measles, but that is exactly what many of us are doing.
Since the pandemic began, we have been asking folks to stay home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Many parents have put off well-child visits, and as a result, childhood immunization rates have declined throughout the US. Now that many communities are opening up, some parents are worried and even hesitant about taking their children to clinics and other healthcare settings where they could be exposed to COVID-19.
When parents ask me about this, I tell them this: Don’t delay—the clinic may be one of the safest places in the community because we have infection control systems in place to help prevent the spread of disease. And you absolutely must protect your child from vaccine-preventable diseases including measles!
Even before COVID-19, measles vaccination rates fell short of US public health goals, and there have been pockets of under-immunized communities across the country, which led to outbreaks in California at Disneyland in 2015, in Minnesota in 2017, and in New York in 2019.
Measles is highly contagious—much more so than COVID-19. It is so contagious that if one person has measles, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected. You can get measles just by being in a room where a person infected with measles has been, even up to two hours after that person has left! Measles can cause serious health issues. It is not just a rash, runny nose, and/or fever—measles can affect the brain and lungs, and can lead to deafness and multi-organ system problems.
The good news is that measles is easy to prevent with safe and effective vaccines. Getting two doses of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine results in 97 percent protection, providing lifelong immunity. As scientists and researchers work to develop new COVID-19 vaccines, measles vaccine is the gold standard for vaccine efficacy.
What Should Healthcare Professionals Know About Measles?
Repeat this mantra: Every visit is a potential vaccine visit. Do not let a patient leave your office without checking their immunization records and giving recommended vaccines as needed.
Be prepared. Given the decline in immunization rates, as soon as international travel resumes, we could start to see imported cases of measles. And if there is one case of measles in a community, there are likely more coming…
Hospitals and healthcare systems should be ready to handle an outbreak: Do you have vitamin A in your pharmacy? Do you know the correct dose and how to give it? These are the things we can prepare for now, before the storm.
Role of Vitamin A in Measles Management
For decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have recommended vitamin A for the management of measles; however, studies have shown that vitamin A has not been used appropriately to treat children in the US. In November 2019, NFID convened a multidisciplinary Summit to discuss the use of vitamin A in US measles management and subsequently issued a report on Vitamin A for the Management of Measles in the US, recommending that all US children presenting with measles should receive an age-appropriate dose of vitamin A as part of a comprehensive measles management protocol.
It is much easier to complete important tasks before an actual outbreak occurs. In a pandemic with a previously unknown virus, we have been forced to build the plane and fly it at same time. It does not have to be that way with measles. We know what to do. We just need to do it.
For more information about measles, visit www.nfid.org/measles, read the NFID Call to Action, and view the NFID Measles Awareness Toolkit for public service announcements, shareable infographics, and other resources.
To join the conversation and get the latest news on infectious diseases, follow NFID on Twitter using the hashtag #KeepUpTheRates, like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, join the NFID LinkedIn Group, and subscribe to NFID Updates.