measles virus microscopic photo
Measles virus, courtesy of CDC/ Cynthia S. Goldsmith; William Bellini, Ph.D.

By Taylor Sisk

“Immunize, immunize, immunize,” Stokes County Health Director Scott Lenhart said on Monday in response to the outbreak of measles in that county. “This is a preventable disease.”

The state Department of Health and Human Services announced last Thursday that seven cases of measles had been identified in Stokes and Orange counties. On Monday, Lenhart said the number of cases reported there had risen from six to seven – four children and three adults – while Orange County officials confirmed one case, a child.

measles virus microscopic photo
Measles virus, courtesy of CDC/Cynthia S. Goldsmith; William Bellini, PhD

Health officials urge anyone who has not received a measles vaccine to do so. The vaccine, called an MMR, prevents measles, mumps and rubella. It’s administered in two parts for kids; sometimes, adults can use a booster.

“Measles is very uncommon in North Carolina, so many people aren’t aware of the symptoms,” state Health Director Laura Gerald said in a DHHS news release. “Measles spreads quickly, particularly in children and adults who aren’t vaccinated.”

Gerald said that anyone with a fever, a runny nose, a cough and watery eyes should stay at home and limit contact with others. If a rash should break out (usually within three or four days) or if symptoms worsen, seek medical care – and call ahead to allow the doctor’s office or health care facility to prepare for your visit and protect other patients.

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air by coughing and sneezing or by contact with secretions from the nose or mouth of someone infected. There is generally a period of a week to 12 days between the transmission of the virus and the onset of symptoms.

For most otherwise healthy people, measles isn’t serious. One in 10 children with measles will get an ear infection; one in 20 will get pneumonia. The disease does pose serious risks for pregnant women, and, on occasion, it poses a risk of seizures for children who get a high fever.

Gerald said the vaccine is readily available from primary health care providers or their local health departments.

Those who don’t get immunized, Lenhart said, are putting others in the community at risk.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...