BOZEMAN - A new report from the Center for Disease Control says the U.S. is facing the second-highest level of measles cases since the virus was declared eradicated in 2000.
The outbreak hasn’t hit Montana yet, but health officials say Montanans need to be prepared for the possibility of measles making its way to the Big Sky State.
“Measles is a pretty serious disease,” says Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley, adding that it's so contagious, you can catch it if you're in the same room hours after an infected person. “A significant number of people who get measles will wind up in the hospital. A small number of people who get measles - about one in a thousand, two in a thousand, they say - can die from it."
Since the vaccine was made available to the public, cases started steadily declining.
The disease was declared eradicated 19 years ago.
Kelley calls vaccines “a miraculous public health intervention.” They can be credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
But already this year, 550 measles cases have been reported nationwide, prompting concern from health officials.
Kelley does say that measles is rare in Montana. A mumps outbreak occurred in Bozeman in February. But Kelley says that doesn’t mean Montanans can disregard their vaccines.
“There’s no reason that we’re immune to it other than just, we’ve been pretty lucky so far,” he says. “And our immunization rates are fairly high.”
The measles vaccine is part of a three-in-one shot to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella.
With so much false information flying around, health officials want to be clear: there are very few negative side effects related to vaccines, and those that do appear are rarely worth worrying about.
While vaccines don’t guarantee you won’t contract the disease (they’re about 98% effective), they are by far the best defense against it.
And as for theories that vaccines cause autism?
When asked directly about the theory, Kelley answered: “No. In fact, that’s been thoroughly discredited in a number of ways. And there’s absolutely no link between the two, there’s not even an association.”
Montana public schools require the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine for all students, unless they have a medical or religious reason.
If you’re nervous about the vaccinations, or have questions about what it could mean for your child, Kelley suggests having a conversation with your healthcare provider to sort through all the noise and get real answers.