HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Centers for Disease Control is reporting that there are now 626 cases of measles across 22 states. Just last week, state health departments confirmed a case in eastern Tennessee. There are also confirmed cases in Florida and Georgia. Now, Alabama health officials are worried about the disease spreading to our state.
Most doctors currently practicing medicine have never had to diagnose measles cases. On top of that, health experts from the University of Alabama Birmingham say there is no anti-viral drug to fight the infection. That's why they're saying it's so important for people to prevent the spread of the disease by being vaccinated.
At a press conference, Monday health officials from UAB shared their concerns.
"We're likely to have one or more cases here in Alabama," said William Curry, M.D., Senior VP for Population Health, UAB.
What's scary about that is how quickly the virus can spread.
"If you take ten people who don't have protection and never been immunized have never had it you put them next to an infectious person 9 of them or 90% will get infected," said Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., Infectious Diseases Physician, UAB.
An infectious disease doctor at UAB Huntsville says that's because of the way it's spread.
"So, if a person with measles coughs or sneezes in a room, the virus can actually remain in droplet particles in the air for even up to two hours after the person has left the room," said Kelsey Ivey, M.D., Infectious Diseases Physician, UAB.
That's why it's important to be vaccinated. Many people get the two rounds of the vaccine when they are children. But how long do those last?
"We have never seen in the natural world evidence of waning immunity over time because we were eliminating it. Now, with this coming back, I think it's a great question," Marrazzo said.
There is one part of the population doctors are particularly worried about. "It comes up in pregnant women. Because there are some data to say that as many as 1 in 20 pregnant women may have lower levels of protective antibodies that we thought they should have if they were vaccinated when they were young," Marrazzo said.
If someone is concerned their vaccine might not be effective anymore, a doctor can perform a blood test to check a person's immunity.
If someone is worried about getting the vaccine, health officials say side effects from the shot are rare and fairly mild. The vaccine is 97% effective.