FRONT ROYAL – Virginia is reckoning with a disease that was declared eradicated in the U.S. almost a decade ago.
Dr. Colin Greene, the director of the Lord Fairfax Health District Virginia Department of Health, explained to the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the first case of measles appeared in Virginia earlier this month. While health officials don’t believe it has reached the valley, Greene said that Warren County has to educate itself on the risks of the once-defeated disease.
A traveler coming from overseas brought the disease back to Virginia after arriving at Dulles this month. With less than 75 miles separating the county from that case, Greene said it was time to address the danger the disease poses.
“I’ve been a family doctor since 1987, and I’ve probably seen three or four cases of measles in my entire career,” Greene told supervisors. “It was not a common disease for a very long time. Unfortunately, that’s changed.”
Spending just 20 minutes in a room with someone who is infected is enough to pass the virus along, he said.
The symptoms result in “essentially a case of the flu on steroids,” he explained. Coughing and a runny nose are followed by a rash that spreads from head to toe. Once that rash appears, he said, the person has been contagious for four days.
Measles is easy to avoid, Greene said, noting that most people born before 1957 are in the clear as are most people who have either had measles or have been exposed to it. Previous exposure or having the disease makes people immune to catching it again, he said.
Anyone born after 1957 who has had a documented case of measles, or a vaccine is safe he said.
The only surefire way apart from natural immunity to avoid the disease, Greene said, is to get the measles-mumps- rubella vaccine.
Measles, he said, has returned because people are not getting vaccinated. The trend of forgoing vaccinations, he said, has resulted from a fraudulent study in a 1998 article that linked the MMR vaccine to autism. The journal later pulled the article and the author lost his medical license but the myth has continued, Greene said.
Turning to the audience, Greene emphasized that there is zero link between the MMR vaccine — or any vaccine — and autism.
Greene explained that if anyone does think they might have measles, they should avoid contact with anyone who isn’t vaccinated or immune and call a doctor immediately. Before showing up at a doctor’s office, however, he said the person should call ahead so special arrangements can be made to prevent any possibility of spreading the disease.
Despite it being highly contagious, Measles is not an epidemic, Greene said. About one out of every 1,000 cases of measles will result in death, Greene said. It is a public health issue but there is no need to panic, he added.
“This is not a disaster,” Greene said. “It’s just something we need to control.”