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Broward measles cases are up to 8. Here are ways to protect yourself and loved ones

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2015, file photo, pediatrician Charles Goodman vaccinates 1-year-old Cameron Fierro with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR vaccine, at his practice in Northridge, Calif. A new study published in the journal Science suggests the measles vaccine not only prevents measles, but may also help the body ward off other infections. State health officials say the number of measles cases is up in California this year and much of the increase is linked to overseas travel. Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health, says the state recorded 38 measles cases as of Thursday, April 25, 2019, versus 11 around the same time last year. She says the state typically sees fewer than two dozen cases a year.
Damian Dovarganes
The most effective way to combat the spread of measles is through the MMR vaccine. The earlier, the better, health experts said. Pediatricians can start vaccinating children as early as 12 to 15 months of age.

Two more cases - one confirmed and one probable - were reported after an outbreak of six infections at a Weston elementary school. The outbreak is raising questions about the highly contagious, viral respiratory infection.

One confirmed and one probable case of measles were reported in Broward County over the weekend after six cases were confirmed at a Broward County elementary school this past week.

It isn't known if the latest cases are connected to the school. If all are confirmed, the total number of infections in the county rises to eight over past 10 days

According to the Florida Department of Health website, the confirmed new case is a child younger than 5. The other involves a child 5 to 9 years old.

The cases at Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston were first reported Feb. 16 Since then, the respiratory infection has become front of mind for parents and teachers.

School leaders have jumped into action. The district has conducted a deep cleaning of the school premises, including school buses, and replaced air filters.

The district said it will accommodate Manatee Bay parents who are concerned about sending their children back to the classroom and want to keep them home.

"We are in the process of developing how to ensure there is continuous learning for families who exercise this option," said schools Superintendent Peter Licata. "This will not be virtual learning, but will offer a bridge during the 21-day period."

As of Wednesday, Licata said 33 of 1,067 Manatee Bay students — roughly 3% — have not received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. But across Florida, the kindergarten unvaccinated rate is about 10% — above the national average, which creates an elevated risk.

"That means we're more vulnerable to outbreaks of preventable diseases, and it's a concern," said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, a pediatrician at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

She said measles brings a potential for long-term health complications including pneumonia, deafness and a condition in the brain called encephalitis. It can also be deadly.

"This needs to be on the minds of all parents and you want to do everything you can to protect your child, right? If it's something preventable, it should be a no-brainer really," she added.

Because measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, its reemergence has raised common questions about the virus. Below, we break down how the infection spreads, what symptoms develop and ways to keep you, your children and the greater community safe.

How do I know if me or my child has measles? 

People with the measles initially experience flu-like symptoms, which include a fever, runny nose and cough. But conjunctivitis (red eyes), a distinctive rash and tiny white ulcers inside the mouth called Koplik spots are characteristic to measles.

"So parents may think, 'Oh, this is just a typical viral illness,' but in three to five days, as those symptoms evolve, that's when this unusual rash appears," she said.

Gwynn said there are lab tests to see if you have the measles virus, but they are not very common. There are also ways to check your immune status by getting certain blood tests.

How does measles spread?

The measles is highly contagious. Gwynn told WLRN that one person with the measles could infect up to 18 people who are not immunized against the virus.

As is typical of respiratory diseases, the virus spreads through coughing or air droplets. The virus can also linger on surfaces. Individuals with the measles can be infectious even before symptoms begin to show.

"That's one of the reasons why the rapid spread can take place because it's a long process to be able to diagnose measles," Gwynn said. "By the time you realize that a child has [it] — or an adult for that matter — it's often too late. The spread has already taken place."

How is it treated?

The most effective way to combat the spread of measles is through the MMR vaccine. The earlier, the better, health experts said. Pediatricians can start vaccinating children as early as 12 to 15 months of age.

In an interview with WLRN, CVS pharmacist Victoria Mottola said staying up to date with the vaccine was crucial to preventing the disease.

“If you have one dose of the vaccine, you're 93% protected. If you get two doses, as you're supposed to since it's a two-dose series, then you're 97% protected. The chances that you will get measles then is less than 3%,” Mottola said.

Side effects of the vaccine include a possible fever, a mild rash and temporary pain in the injection site, but the majority of people who take the vaccine experience no serious side effects.

Mottola cited decreasing vaccination rates as the cause for the recent resurgence.

“We're putting other children at risk, possibly those that are not vaccinated within the same class or within the same school,” said Mottola.

The MMR vaccine is required for students to enroll in schools, however, school districts offer exemptions for religious reasons.

Otherwise, there is no silver bullet to cure measles — it has to run its course. That could take as long as two weeks. Gwynn said a student shouldn't go back to school until the rash is completely gone.

"It's not like we have something like Tamiflu for the flu or Paxlovid for COVID," Gwynn said. "We don't have that for measles. So that's why the measles vaccine was just a game-changer for health care preventive medicine in pediatrics."

Every state also has a registry of immunization information, so you can request your vaccination records. School districts also track vaccinations, although Gwynn is quick to add that it may not be as reliable as state records.

Where can you get the MMR vaccine?

The MMR vaccine is available for adults at any retail pharmacy such as CVS and Walgreens. Health insurance generally covers the cost of vaccinations. Those who are uninsured can visit their county Department of Health or seek out free community outreach programs like the University of Miami Pediatric Mobile Clinic. Children can also get free immunizations under a federal program called Vaccines for Children (VFC).

How should parents decide if they send their children to a school or class with a known outbreak?

While the choice to send a child to a school with a known outbreak will ultimately rest with parents, Mottola said a child’s vaccination status should be a deciding factor.

Children who are vaccinated will largely be protected at schools, while children who are not vaccinated are the most at risk.

“If, for some reason, the child is not vaccinated, there is a very high chance — 90% or above — that they will also contract measles,” said Mottola.

Gwynn added that there are lessons learned from dealing with COVID.

"As long as your child is vaccinated and you know a deep cleaning has been completed, there should be no concerns about returning to school."

Copyright 2024 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Alyssa Ramos
Rafael Hernandez
Years ago, after racking her brains trying to find a fun, engaging, creative night gig to subsidize her acting habit, Chris decided to ride her commercial voiceover experience into the fast-paced world of radio broadcasting. She started out with traffic reporting, moved on to news -- and never looked back. Since then, Chris has worked in newsrooms throughout South Florida, producing stories for radio broadcasts and the web.