MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Former measles patients and doctors are speaking out about how important the measles vaccine is after the disease begins making a comeback.
Back in 2000 the United States declared that the extremely contagious and potentially deadly disease had been eradicated from North America. However, outbreaks are still happening.
Right now, a state of emergency has been declared in Washington state, where officials say there are 53 confirmed cases of measles. In 90 percent of those cases, the patients were not immunized.
“I’m a survivor of the 1989 outbreak of the measles,” said Cecilia Rodriguez. She almost died when she was only 13 months old.
Her father remembers that day like it was yesterday.
“Fever, runny nose, so, we figured it was something minor,” Carlos Rodriguez said.
But he soon realized it was something far worse and deadly.
“She woke up in the middle of the night. She couldn’t breathe, she was sitting up, couldn’t breathe.”
So he rushed her to the hospital, and not a minute too soon — Cecilia was diagnosed with German measles, a contagious disease easily be spread through contact with an infected person or through the air when someone coughs or sneezes.
Cecilia’s case was so severe she spent nine months in the hospital in a coma fighting for her life. Doctors even told her family she only had a one percent chance of living.
“So I went the chapel and I prayed for the long time, and something told be just take the chance, so I took that one percent and here she is.”
Dr. Katherine Allan, an internist with St. Francis Hospital, says getting the MMR vaccine and knowing what to look for saves lives.
“At first it seems like any other run of the mill cold, runny eyes, runny nose, cough, shortness of breath,” Allan said. “There are certain spots that occur in the month called couplet spots and once the parent sees that, it’s just not one run of the mill cold, they start seeing these changes.”
Allan says a few days later a rash will appear. She says, unfortunately, it is when the patient shows symptoms of a cold that they are most contiguous. Allan says the virus is so dangerous it can survive in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves the room.
“So the affected person can go in, cough, sneeze, leave and then somebody under-vaccinated or who is not vaccinated, or who is immuno-compromised can go in get exposed to what the previous person had and catch it.”
Allan says one reason we are seeing an uptick in measles cases is because some states allow parents to not vaccinate their children based on philosophical or religious reasons.
That includes Arkansas.
Another reason is based on a now debunked theory the MMR vaccine causes autism.
“It is a very effective and safe vaccine,” she said. “The autism study was disproven. There is no link between autism and the measles vaccine.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, since Jan. 1, there have been 101 confirmed cases of the measles in 10 states.
Thirty years later, Cecilia Rogriguez is still battling with the affects of contracting the measles. It impacted her speech, hearing and eyesight.
It’s a good reason to get vaccinated.
“This is a disease that we can prevent,” Allan said.