Most people would agree that it’s better to prevent a disease than to treat it after it occurs. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Yet, the numbers of Maine children who are not vaccinated continue to grow, and measles, a disease that was considered eradicated in the United States in 2000, has spread to 22 states across the country. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 880 cases thus far in 2019, and exposures to the disease are on the rise. Given that there have been a number of cases in Massachusetts, it is likely just a matter of time before we see measles in Maine.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person. It can spread to others through coughing and sneezing. Measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.
The best way to protect children, adults, and our communities against measles and other diseases, like influenza, whooping cough, hepatitis, and others, is through vaccination. As has been the case with other disease outbreaks, most of those affected in the current measles outbreak have not been immunized.
In Maine and across the nation, vaccination is a hot political topic. The rise of the anti-vaccine movement has directly impacted vaccination rates, causing exposure to several diseases to increase. According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine families have one of the highest rates of childhood vaccine refusals. Lincoln County fails to meet the 95% threshold for vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella in school-aged children. In other words, our community is at high risk of an outbreak.
At LincolnHealth, we’re committed to doing our part to improve the health of our children and our communities by offering walk-in vaccination clinics for all ages on the first Friday of every month in Boothbay Harbor, Damariscotta, Waldoboro, and Wiscasset. The clinics are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you are not able to make a clinic, a visit can easily be scheduled for vaccine catch-up. For more information, call 563-4250 or contact your provider’s office. The center for disease control (cdc.gov) also has excellent, up-to-date information about this and many other heath topics.
It is our hope that the current measles outbreak offers a pause for concern and serves as a call to action for all parents to give their children and our communities the best protection against deadly but preventable diseases.
(Drs. Catherine Cavanaugh, Andrew Russ, and Eric Worthing are providers with Lincoln Medical Partners Pediatrics.)