CHARLOTTESVILLE — So far, an outbreak of measles in 26 states has not hit Virginia.
As of Friday, no cases of the highly contagious virus had been reported in the commonwealth to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there’s still reason to be cautious, warn local health officials, who are asking residents to check their records and follow vaccination recommendations.
“The most important thing to emphasize is that the measles outbreaks we have seen in the U.S. so far this year have primarily affected children,” said Marshall Vogt, an epidemiologist for the Virginia Department of Health.
The disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. Current outbreaks have been imported by international travelers who have interacted with unvaccinated people in the U.S. According to the CDC, there are 940 people affected across the country, the largest outbreak in a decade.
Health officials are hopeful that historically high vaccination rates among Virginians will limit the risk of widespread outbreaks.
Virginia requires children to be vaccinated to enroll in most schools and day care, and allows exemptions only on verified religious grounds. Vogt said all children should be vaccinated with two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine . According to the annual Virginia Immunization Survey, roughly 80% of kindergarten, Head Start and day care students received the standard MMR, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, hepatitis B and varicella vaccines during the 2017-18 school year.
The first MMR vaccine people receive, typically as children, is effective at blocking the disease for about 95% of the population, said Dr. Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology at the University of Virginia Medical Center. A second shot boosts effectiveness.
“There are certain groups that the CDC recommends should have another MMR vaccine, and those include people going to college, people who work in health care and people who are traveling internationally, because they’re at more risk for exposure,” Sifri said.
Health officials also are warning of an epidemic that is widespread in the state: hepatitis A.
Last month, the state Department of Health warned Virginians of an outbreak of hepatitis A, of which there have been about 50 cases this year. About half the cases are in Southwest Virginia.
Vogt said there hasn’t been a change in the virus, which is typically spread when someone with the virus uses the bathroom and then doesn’t properly wash their hands. Then it can spread, often through contaminated food or needles or sexual contact.
“The route of transmission — fecal to oral — has not changed, but the groups of people spreading it have,” Vogt said. “In this outbreak, groups of high-risk individuals are transmitting the virus likely because they are in close contact with each other or are in settings where transmission is easy, such as crowded quarters and areas without easy access to running water and toilets.”
The classic symptom of hepatitis A is jaundice. Symptoms develop 15 to 50 days after exposure to the virus.
“Hep A and measles have made the news recently because of the number of cases we have seen, but we want people to be vaccinated against all vaccine-preventable diseases whenever possible,” Vogt said. “High rates of vaccination help prevent outbreaks like the ones we have seen recently.”