Health officials urge vaccinations during outbreak of measles

Posted at 5:33 PM, Jan 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-30 17:33:42-05

Chesapeake, Va. (WTKR) - As the measles outbreak grows nationwide, local health officials in Hampton Roads are encouraging folks to make sure their children are vaccinated.

"It's a highly contagious airborne disease that is rearing its ugly head but it causes a rash and a fever and with young children it can be deadly," Chesapeake Health Department Epidemiologist Lisa Engle told NewsChannel 3's Todd Corillo Friday.

Just one case of measles would be considered an outbreak in Virginia.

Under Virginia code, students are required to have two doses of the measles vaccine prior to starting school. However, parents can sign a religious exemption form to send their children to school without immunizations.

That's not the only reason a child might not be vaccinated.

"There are certain children who can’t get the vaccines for certain medical reasons – say they are immune compromised for chemotherapy," Engle explained.

However, Engle says she has encountered parents who do not believe in vaccinations and she says not only are vaccinations safe, not vaccinating your child can put them and others at risk.

"A lot of time what I get is the child that is sick with an illness that could have been vaccine preventable and a lot of times they are very upset that they didn’t do it. They realize that they’ve put themselves in a bad spot and their kid is much sicker than they expected it to be," she explained.

There is a provision in Virginia code that allows non-vaccinated students to be excluded from school as a safety precaution during an identified outbreak.

"We could exclude them if we have an outbreak. So technically even if we have one case in Virginia it can be up to the local locality to exclude a child if they are not immunized in that school," explained Engle.

Since measles is so contagious - it can be transmitted even after an infected person leaves a room - it can be very hard to track down who was exposed after the fact.

"It's very difficult to find out who has been in Farm Fresh yesterday or Dairy Queen the day before because that’s what’s happening – you have to get everybody that’s been in contact – even in close proximity – to control that outbreak."

Engle says the best way to prevent the measles is by getting the vaccination.

"In young children, the children can’t breathe and you watch your child not be able to breathe and it changes the way you look at vaccines, it truly does."