Why New North Carolina Measles Cases Worries Health Officials

PHOTO: A Syrian Kurdish minor is seen as Turkish ministry of health employees vaccinate against measles and poliomyelitis in a refugee camps in Sanlurfa, Turkey, Sept. 24, 2014.Rauf Maltas / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
A Syrian Kurdish minor, fled to Turkey with her parents from the clashes of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) militants and Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces is seen as Turkish ministry of health employees vaccinate against measles and poliomyelitis in a refugee camps in Sanlurfa, Turkey, Sept. 24, 2014.

A case of red measles, also known as Rubeola, was diagnosed earlier this week in Moorseville, North Carolina -- worrying health officials and highlighting the renewed threat of measles in this country.

The infected person was unvaccinated and had recently returned from a trip to India confirmed Rebecca Carter, the public information officer for Mecklenburg county. Carter said she could not release any additional details such as the age or sex of the person due to patient confidentiality.

Dr. William Schaffner said this case is no trivial matter, warning that measles is highly contagious, spreading easily through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and sore throat followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. It can also lead to death, he added.

“People without gray hair forget that before vaccines became available, measles used to kill approximately 400 children a year in this country,” he said.

Before the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine series became common practice there were hundreds of thousands of cases each year in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent reported. The disease has come roaring back as more people refuse or delay immunization, Schaffner noted.

This year there have been 610 confirmed measles cases reported to CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. That is the highest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000.

The majority of people at risk for measles are unvaccinated, Schaffner pointed out. Traveling to countries where there are large outbreaks also increases the risk, according to the CDC.

Many of the American cases this year were traced to an ongoing outbreak in the Philippines.

“Those of us who remember what it was like before immunization helped eradicate this disease are aghast that someone would not vaccinate,” Schaffner said.