Washburn prepared if measles spread to Kansas

Although a measles outbreak on campus is unlikely, Washburn’s Student Health Services has a plan to prevent the spread of any infectious disease.

Kansas has yet to have a case of measles related to the southern California outbreak, which started late in 2014 and infected 125 people in seven states. All of 2014 saw the most number of measles cases recorded in the United States since the 1990s totaling 644 cases in 17 states.

“I think anytime we have an infectious disease epidemic, we should all take notice,” said Shirley Dinkel, director of Student Health Services at Washburn.

However, she said she doesn’t think this is a situation that should induce panic in the area yet because of the age of the population that is on campus.

According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles can be serious in all age groups, but children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 are more likely to suffer from complications. These complications can range from ear infections and diarrhea to lung infections, brain swelling and sometimes death.

Symptoms of measles begin to appear about seven to 14 days after infection. Symptoms usually begin with a high fever potentially higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Between two and three days later, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out, beginning as flat red spots that appear around the face and spread downward to the rest of the body.

The CDC recommends all children get two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, the first at about 1 year old and a second between 4 and 6 years of age. Adults who are not vaccinated should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine.

“Most people who come here are up to date with all their childhood vaccinations,” Dinkel said, concerning students attending Washburn.

Dinkel said Student Health Services’ first job if someone with an infectious disease is identified is to isolate that person in order to prevent the spread of the disease while simultaneously contacting the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

According to KDHE guidelines, each infected person is to be isolated for four days after the onset of the rash, and any susceptible person in a school or daycare is to be vaccinated within 24 hours after being notified or stay home for 21 days after the last reported illness.

“The challenge with measles is that it spreads really easy,” Dinkel said. “With tuberculosis, you have to have some pretty close contact, but with measles, it is very contagious.”

Measles was declared nearly eradicated in the U.S. in 2000 due to a situation called community immunity (occasionally called herd immunity) which occurs when a large enough percentage of a population is vaccinated. Even people not vaccinated, such as newborns, are offered some protection because there is little opportunity for the virus to spread. For measles, about 92 to 94 percent of people need to be immunized for herd immunity to protect the whole population.

The MMR vaccine was developed in the 1950s and over the decades, the number of infections in the United States fell from 3 to 4 million a year to only 37 in 2004. But recently immunization rates have begun to decline in certain areas partially due to growing misconceptions that have linked vaccines to autism.

“There is no evidence to support that vaccines cause autism,” Dinkel said.

The speculation of a link between vaccines and autism began in 1998 when a study published in the Lancet, a United Kingdom medical journal, followed 12 children and their developmental regression in gastrointestinal symptoms. Nine of those children had autism. Eight of those nine parents thought the symptoms of autism developed after receiving the MMR vaccine. It was only a correlation, and was neither a randomized control nor a scientific study.

The study spurred lots of questions about whether vaccines can cause autism, but study after study over the last 15 years, with bigger population samples and randomized controls, showed no link.

Dinkel said vaccines are very safe, and most of the vaccines children receive are very effective, but nothing is without risk.

“As long as we are informed about what those risks are, then we as grown-ups in the United States can make our own decisions about what we are going to do with that,” Dinkel said.

If students have questions or concerns, Dinkel said Student Health Services would be happy to answer them. She said students should remember the good things that their grandmas taught them about being sick.

“Wash your hands, cover your mouth, cough into your elbow, don’t cough into your hand and stay home,” Dinkel said.