The death of a 43-year-old flight attendant from measles this week is the latest in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has deemed a record-breaking year for the once-eliminated disease. Rotem Amitai, a mother of three, reportedly fell into a coma due to complications of the measles, which she contracted on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the “devoted” mother had received just one of the two recommended vaccinations, leading her to become infected by a passenger in March. While Amitai is just the third fatality from measles that Israel has experienced in over a decade, her case is sparking concern in the U.S., which is experiencing its biggest outbreak since the eradication of the disease in 2000.
Here is a look at how measles is continuing to spread — and what you need to know about the epidemic overall.
The outbreak has spread to 30 states
According to most recent data from the CDC, 1,182 people nationwide have contracted measles this year in 30 different states. Those states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
The infection is highly contagious
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies measles as one of the “world’s most contagious diseases” and says that it is spread by coughing, sneezing or close personal contact with someone who is infected. The infection can remain in the air or other surfaces (such as counters or tables) for up to two hours.
The illness is marked by fever and cough
Technically known as rubeola, measles most commonly affects children and begins to show symptoms anywhere from 10 to 14 days after exposure. The hallmark symptoms of the infection — according to the Mayo Clinic — are fever, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, inflamed eyes, a rash and white-blueish spots on the inside of the mouth. Those infected, according to WHO, can be contagious for four days before the rash develops and four days after it disappears.
It mostly disappears on its own
As the illness most commonly disappears on its own in a few weeks, doctors generally recommend over-the-counter fever reducers to treat it. Children who suffer from low levels of vitamin A can be given a large dose of this to help them eradicate the infection quicker, but first talk to your child’s pediatrician about proper dosage. There is currently no treatment to get rid of the illness once it begins.
The infection can cause serious long-term effects and (in rare cases) be fatal
The CDC reports that measles can be serious in all age groups, but specifically puts children under the age of five at risk of complications. Although most individuals who contract the infection will experience a full recovery, serious complications can occur. These secondary infections include pneumonia, ear infections and encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain that can result in convulsions, hearing loss and intellectual disability. In extremely rare cases, this can turn fatal.
Vaccines can prevent the disease’s spread
According to the CDC, between 2000 and 2016, the measles vaccine prevented an estimated 20.4 million deaths worldwide. In order to protect yourself from the disease, the CDC recommends getting the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine two weeks prior to traveling. Two doses of the MMR vaccines — which are recommended — provide 97 percent protection from the measles.
Unvaccinated communities are fueling the outbreak
Experts have drawn a direct link between the current outbreak and vaccine resistance. As of today, more than 75 percent of the measles cases in America are linked to outbreaks in New York — which has seen a surge in unvaccinated children among certain communities. The outbreak prompted New York Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio to issue a controversial mandate requiring residents to get vaccinated.
This piece has been updated from its original version, which was published in April.
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