Before Pat Jackson knew what the measles was, she felt the impact. She said it has taught her a valuable lesson in the importance of vaccinations.
Jackson was born in 1960, three years before the measles vaccine was developed. She said her mother contracted the virus during her first trimester of pregnancy.
Back then, thousands contracted the measles virus each year. Hundreds died.
“She knew how bad it could be,” said Jackson. “She also knew she could miscarry. Nobody knew what to expect until I was born.”
Jackson said she was born with congenital cataracts and a heart defect. Doctors considered her legally blind as a child and she had both eyes removed in her early 20s.
Though cases like Jackson’s may be rare, studies show the measles is dangerous for pregnant women and babies alike.
“If a mother gets infected with measles during pregnancy, she can have a miscarriage, premature birth of the baby and low birth weight,” said Dr. Robin Schmucker who is a Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician at Parkview Health. “Babies that become infected with the measles, they are incredibly sick and definitely more at risk for dying.”
Complications from the virus include pneumonia and swelling of the brain – which can result in a lifetime of developmental delays. Measles is also highly contagious.
“It’s able to remain in rooms for up to two hours after an infectious person has been in the room,” said Schmucker.
The measles was thought to have been eradicated 19 years ago, but it is making a comeback.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are 839 confirmed cases of the measles from Jan. 1 through May 10. It’s the highest number of cases in the United States since the disease was thought to have been eliminated.
According to Public health officials, most people who contracted the virus were unvaccinated.
Dr. Tony GiaQuinta is the President of the Indiana Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.
“We should not tolerate children getting sick and we should not tolerate a community that can prevent these diseases but does not,” said GiaQuinta. “I don’t mean to dramatize this illness because we have viruses and bacteria that cause kids to be sick all the time. But what’s important is that this illness is preventable.”
There is a growing number of people who refuse to get vaccinated. A previous 15 Find Out report explored the reasons why parents opt out of vaccinations. We learned those who are against vaccinations believe they pose serious health risks, including injury or death.
“We study [vaccines] at nauseum,” said GiaQuinta. “We see populations… look at hundreds and thousands of children that are given these vaccines. We know these vaccines are safe.”
GiaQuinta said Fort Wayne still has a high rate of herd immunity. That means a large percentage of a population is immune to certain viruses, which protects those who are not immune.
“If we don’t maintain a high level of immunization then we will see vaccine preventable diseases like the measles come back,” said GiaQuinta.
“Up to 90 percent of non-immune people would become infected [with measles] if they’re exposed,” said Schmucker. “You hear that measles or other infectious diseases are only one plane ride away and that’s so true.”
Jackson said she and her siblings were vaccinated once the shots became available. She hopes her story will encourage others to do the same.
“A lot of people don’t even know just one person that has the measles or was affected by measles, so they don’t see the effects,” said Jackson. “This is a deadly disease. A life-altering disease. And it affects your entire life. It’s so important to get your shot.”
Schmucker said people born before 1957 are likely immune to the measles because they have already been exposed. The measles vaccine was created in 1963.
In 1989 doctors recommended that children get two doese of the measles vaccines instead of one. Those who received the vaccination before 1991 should check with their doctor to see if they are immune to measles.