With eight confirmed cases of measles and a suboptimal vaccination rate in the state of Texas, public health officials counseled caution and encouraged vaccination during a Feb. 19 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court.
“Measles is important, and you need to get serious about it,” said Mary Ann Rodriguez, the interim health authority for Travis County and the city of Austin.
Measles is a highly contagious disease that presents flu-like symptoms. If one person is infected with the virus, nine of 10 people who come into contact with that person will also become infected unless immunized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One in 4 measles patients will require hospitalization, and as many as 1 in 500 will die, even with the best care, Rodriguez said.
The CDC recommends that people are vaccinated against measles with the MMR vaccine, which it calls “very safe.” The vaccine is administered in two doses, first at 12 to 15 months of age and then again between ages 4 and 6.
“It’s a really good idea to get immunized because it’s very effective,” Rodriguez said, explaining that a 95 percent vaccination rate helps stymie any potential measles outbreak.
However, the latest available data shows that only 90 percent of Texas preschoolers between the ages of 19 months old and 35 months old have been vaccinated, Rodriguez said.
While there are not statistics on the vaccination rate at the county or city level, Rodriguez said there are schools in Travis County “with vaccination exemptions of up to 49 percent.”
Most of these schools are private, although exemptions are also available in public schools, said Janet Pichette, chief epidemiologist for Austin Public Health.
In anticipation of a possible outbreak of measles in Austin, APH is monitoring the syndromes reported at area emergency rooms and checking its vaccine stockpile.