(Bloomberg) — Measles is threatening to make a comeback in children after a record shortfall in vaccination rates during the pandemic, world and US health officials said.
Nearly 40 million children around the world missed a measles vaccine dose in 2021, according to a joint report from the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That raises the risk of the highly infectious respiratory virus in the US and other countries where it’s been rooted out by immunization campaigns.
Declining disease surveillance and disruptions in immunization campaigns during the pandemic have helped make measles an “imminent threat” around the world, according to the report. Vaccination coverage for US children younger than 2 is currently hovering at 90.4%, far below the 95% level needed to keep the disease at bay, according to CDC data.
“The record number of children under-immunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the Covid-19 pandemic,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
Measles can be prevented with two doses of vaccine that are routinely included in US childhood shots that also prevent mumps and rubella. Campaigns led the US to measles eradication in 2000, but imported cases from parts of the world where the virus still circulates cause sporadic outbreaks. In 2018, an imported case sparked a flareup that tore through an unvaccinated community in New York, eventually infecting 649 people.
More than 13% of US children are now susceptible to measles due to declines in vaccine coverage during the pandemic, according to a separate study published in July in the journal Vaccine, and the disease already appears to be slipping through coverage gaps. An ongoing outbreak in Columbus, Ohio has infected two dozen unvaccinated kids. Nearly half of them were hospitalized, local health data show. The highly contagious virus, which spreads through coughing and sneezing, has already moved through 11 Columbus-area daycare facilities.
Almost two-thirds of the Ohio cases are in 1- to 2-year-olds, all of whom are unvaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. MMR vaccine coverage among Ohio kindergartners fell from 92.4% during the 2019-2020 school year to 89.6% in the following year, according to the CDC.
“What’s happening in Ohio may be a harbinger of things to come,” Robert Bednarczyk, a global health and epidemiology professor at Emory University in Atlanta who helped write the Vaccine paper, said in an interview. “When you factor in Covid declines in primary care visits, is this going to start raising questions about other routine vaccinations?”
Clusters of measles-susceptible children could reignite transmission within in the US. Symptoms usually begin with a fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes. Tiny white spots then start to appear inside the mouth, followed by a red blotchy rash. Serious cases can cause pneumonia.
“Highly infectious diseases like measles act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, identifying weaknesses in public health infrastructure,” Bednarczyk and his colleagues said in their July paper. “Where childhood vaccination rates dip, measles will often be the first pathogen to re-emerge.”
Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries
A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.
Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.
It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.
Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.
Older adults amongst the most susceptible to RSV
TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The risk of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV, typically flies under the radar when it comes to older adults.
With 10 times the amount of older adults being hospitalized for RSV than in previous years, understanding the risk is important for those who are more susceptible.
“RSV in older adults starts out with the same symptoms as younger adults. With common cold-like symptoms- nasal congestion, sniffles, low-grade temperature, sore throat, dry cough, tiredness. These symptoms will last for a few days,” Mary Derby, Nurse Manager at Pima County Health Department explained.
“However, an older adult or an adult with chronic medical conditions such as heart and lung disease- they can experience more serious symptoms, such as getting a high fever, dehydration, and real difficulty breathing.”
Derby says if these symptoms lead to extreme chest pain, loss of color in the face, or struggle to breathe- seek medical attention immediately.
It is also important for those assisting an older adult to be aware of the risk imposed on those more susceptible.
“If you’re caring for older adults, please wash your hands frequently. Watch for your own symptoms and stay away if you’re experiencing symptoms. Consider wearing a mask to protect that older adult, because these older adults do need that protection… Take it seriously,” Derby emphasized.
Upward 6,000 to 10,000 older adults die each year from RSV.
As we make our way through the holidays, be sure to stay up to date with COVID-19 and Influenza vaccines, stay home if you are not feeling well, wash your hands often and for those at higher risk, wear a fitted mask around others.
AIDS day walk in North Battleford aims to `banish that stigma’
By Julia Peterson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On World AIDS Day, advocates in the Battlefords gathered to raise awareness about how the virus affects people in their community, and how people can get help and treatment, if they need it.
“HIV is completely preventable in today’s society, with all the advances in medication,” said Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre’s HIV project coordinator, Cymric Leask. “But due to a lot of intersecting factors, especially due to COVID in the past couple of years, our HIV numbers have skyrocketed.”
In 2021, more than 200 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in the province, even while testing, treatment and outreach were reduced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saskatchewan has the highest rate of new HIV infections in Canada, and has had the highest annual rate in the country for more than a decade.
The proportion of new HIV cases in rural areas is rising, too.
“Here up north, there are such large barriers to access to care,” said Leask. “We do have some great resources here in North Battleford but it’s still very hard to access the proper care for HIV.”
For example, getting started on HIV medication requires a visit with a communicable disease doctor, but there is no communicable disease doctor based in the Battlefords. Instead, that doctor visits the community only once every four months.
Another barrier Leask has found is that many people still have an outdated understanding of what HIV is, who is at risk and how treatment works.
“Especially here in rural areas, it’s stigmatized as something that only affects gay or bisexual men, men who have sex with men,” Leask said.
Today in Saskatchewan, men and women are diagnosed with HIV at almost equal rates, and two thirds of new cases are passed through injection drug use.
Treatments are much easier to manage than they used to be; some only involve taking one pill a day.
But the enduring stigma around HIV makes it harder for people to find community and support.
“People don’t talk about it,” said Jackie Kennedy, executive director of the Battlefords Indian and Metis Friendship Centre. “I think they’re afraid to. A lot of people don’t disclose that information (about their HIV status) because they are afraid to be judged.”
As more people continue to be diagnosed with HIV in Saskatchewan every year, groups and organizations in the Battlefords are working hard to make it easier for people to get testing, treatment, information and harm reduction supplies.
“We want to banish that stigma of how it used to be,” said Leask. “It’s not like that anymore.”
Julia Peterson is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with THE STARPHOENIX
The LJI program is federally funded.
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