Although Missouri is not high in the measles outbreak statistics, Pettis County Health Center Administrator JoAnn Martin is concerned about the increase in exemptions in Pettis County.
Martin said measles is considered a highly contagious disease. The disease is airborne and will remain in a room for two hours after the infected person has left.
“If you have 100 unvaccinated people in a room at least 90 to 95% of them, when exposed, will develop the measles,” she said. “In order to provide protection for those people who cannot be immunized, which are babies, people who have weakened immune systems, such as people undergoing cancer treatments. You need to have your community with at least 95% of the people protected against measles.”
Martin noted Pettis County has a high vaccination exemption rate. The MMR exemption rate has risen from 1.2% 10 years ago to 5.38%, which drops Pettis County below the 95% ratio for protection.
“Every year the school nurses send into the state a report that says how many children in their schools have exemptions from immunizations,” she noted. “And, what immunizations they have exemptions from.
“We are in the top 20 counties in the state with the highest exemption rate, out of 114 counties,” she continued. “That places us at an increased risk for the spread of measles. In fact, (measles) are so high on our area of concern we have it in our strategic plan. That’s how high of an area of concern it is.”
She said the other challenge stated by the Centers for Disease Control is people who were born in the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s who may need to update their MMR vaccinations.
“They used an inactivated vaccine that wasn’t as effective as the current MMR,” Martin said of the earlier immunizations. “So, even though people were immunized and they have it on their immunization record, they may not have optimum protection.”
She encouraged people born in those years and who travel internationally, especially to Europe, Israel or the Philippines, to not to rely on their measles protection.
“You should either get another shot or get a titer or blood test to see if you do have protection against the measles,” Martin advised. “It certainly is a developing concern. I can’t even tell you how many cases the country has because every day they up the number.”
Martin said as far as she and PCHC Health Coordinator Malinda Nevils, R.N., know there is only one case of measles in Missouri. The disease presents much like a cold, with a fever, red
watery eyes and a rash appearing after about four days. Complications are pneumonia and encephalitis. Nevils said the disease can be spread before the rash appears.
“We are mobile, we do travel,” Martin said. “If we should identify a case in Pettis County, we are going to ask all those people who are not immunized to please stay home. And, we’ll be contacting you.”
PCHC offers the Section 317 vaccine for people age 19 and older who have no insurance. Martin said those born before 1957 have a natural immunity to measles.
“But there’s that group from ’57 onward who may have had it or may not have had it,” Martin said. “Our very best protection is immunization.”
For more information, call the Pettis County Health Center, 911 E. 16th St., at 660-827-1130. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday.