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To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
Measles outbreak stirs up debate
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According to the Mayo Clinic Measles signs and symptoms appear 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Signs and symptoms include:


Dry cough

Runny nose

Sore throat

Inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis)

Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background found inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek

A skin rash made up of large, flat blotches that often flow into one another.

The infection occurs in stages over a period of two to three weeks

Infection and incubation

Nonspecific signs and symptoms

Acute illness s and rash

Communicable period in which it can be spread to others for about eight days, starting four days before the rash appears an ending when rash has been present for four days.

*Information from Mayo clinic

The national measles outbreak has ignited a firestorm debate over immunization, but while most Newton County parents appear to strongly support vaccination, few of those who spoke with The News were ready to do away with personal choice when it comes to immunization.

“I mean, is it a legal obligation to not smoke around your children? I think that’s kind of a moral [decision],” said Susan Stanford, a Covington mother of three vaccinated children. “There are two sides to that coin. This is America, and we want to keep Americans safe.”

“I don’t know how I feel about the government mandating that,” she said. “That’s a tough one.”

Lisa, another local mother of three who decline to give her last name, said Georgia should do away with religious exemptions that allow some children to enter school without immunization.

“I just don’t think it’s very wise [not to vaccinate], because it puts other children at risk,” Lisa.

“It’s a choice for each to decide, but…if they were to be going to school with my kids I’d want them to be vaccinated,” said Laci Norman as she balanced her six-month-old daughter, Danilynn, on her hip.

The Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed its first measles case last week. The sick child, an infant, had recently returned from overseas and was being cared for at Egleston at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. From January 1 to February 6, 2015, 121 people from 17 states in the U.S. and Washington DC have been reported as having measles.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It can be transmitted through tiny water droplets that become airborne when someone coughs or sneezes. Typical symptoms include fever, red eyes, runny nose, cough, and sore throat, followed by a rash that spreads over the entire body. About one in 1,000 people who contract the disease will not survive it, and one to two in a thousand will suffer brain damage.

Children under a year, who cannot be vaccinated, as well as those with compromised immune systems from diseases such as HIV or leukemia, are particularly vulnerable.

Georgia is actually slightly above the national average when it comes to coverage for MMR—the vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, typically given together. In Georgia, 93.9 percent of children between 19 and 35 months have received their MMR vaccine, according to the most recent data available, compared to 92 percent nationally.

However, Georgia also allows medical or religious exemptions from vaccination. For the 2013-2014 school year, 143 children were enrolled in kindergarten with medical exemptions, and 2,420 with religious exemptions. Multiplied through the grades, that amounts to thousands of unvaccinated children in the school system.

“There is a strand of Christianity that holds that people should expect divine healing, that…as proof of their faith, they should rely on God’s healing,” said to Dr. Sandy Martin, head of the Religion Department at the University of Georgia.

The 1990 measles outbreak in Philadelphia that killed at least five children was traced back to two churches that preached against vaccination.

However, Dr. Martin emphasized that only a very small minority of fundamentalists shun “man-made” medicine, including vaccinations.

At least some of the religious exemptions in Georgia were likely filed by parents who are not so much religious as they are concerned over rumored links between vaccines and autism. Georgia, unlike other states, does not allow philosophical exemptions.

Dr. Melinda Willingham, a pediatrician at Decatur Pediatric Group, said she has never encountered a family that resisted vaccination on religious grounds, but increasing numbers of parents fear their child could develop autism.

“I want to approach [the parents] knowing what their concerns are, what they’ve read and what they’re afraid of, and then I explain how and why vaccines were developed, how a child’s immune system develops and why there is a set schedule,” she said. “Once we start discussing that and I give them some reputable websites to read, a lot of parents who did not want to vaccinate come around.”

She said that children today receive more vaccines than those born in the eighties or earlier because there are new and emerging infectious diseases to be vaccinated against.

“I emphatically argue against an altered schedule,” she said of some parents’ compromise solution to stagger their child’s vaccinations. “I need to deliver medicine the way it has been scientifically proven to work.”

Willingham said the erroneous link between vaccines and autism is likely a result of the fact that autism is generally diagnosed when the child is between 12 and 24 months—the same period when they would be receiving their vaccinations. Moreover, she said, she has at least two patients who are autistic and were never vaccinated.

She urged parents to vaccinate in order to protect the most vulnerable members of the community.

“These disease processes are real and can be fatal,” she said. “It is important to vaccinate and educate.”

Jenay Beshears, the Infection Control Coordinator for Newton County Medical Center, said that although the hospital has not received a suspect case of the measles related to the recent outbreak, “the hospital is prepared to identify, isolate and treat any potential patient that presents with measles symptoms.”

“Our procedures that were developed and implemented are aligned with the GA Department of Public Health and CDC most current recommendations,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The best way to prevent the spread of disease, including measles, is to make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date. Other ways would include, avoiding sick close contacts, performing hand hygiene often, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if you are sick.”