Feb 12th, 2015 by UTPA College of Health Sciences & Human Services
An increase of national measles cases has shined a light on those who don’t believe in vaccinating their children. As of last week, there were 102 reported cases of measles in 14 states.
Locally, Hidalgo County Health Director Eddie Olivarez said the area does a good a job of keeping up with its vaccinations, adding that 87 percent of children in the county are vaccinated.
The Monitor recently asked Olivarez about the recent outbreaks of measles and what it means to the county.
Q: What is herd immunity and how does it apply to the recent American outbreak of measles?
A: When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines — such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals — get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as “community immunity. (www.vaccines.gov/basics/protection/)
Q: Should the United States tighten their legal exemptions for vaccinations?
A: High exemption rates leads to low immunization rates which leaves the state exceptionally vulnerable to outbreaks, not just of measles but potentially other diseases like mumps, rubella and whooping cough. For example, in 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from this country. The United States was able to determine this because it has a highly effective measles vaccine, a strong vaccination program that achieves high vaccine coverage in children, and a strong public health system for detecting and responding to measles cases and outbreaks.
Q: Does our proximity to the Mexican border present any special health challenges for our area?
A: We must take into account our recent immigration data obtained from CBP that our public health risks are no longer localized but are international due to rapid transit and globalization. We must always be vigilant for any type of illness or outbreak that may be imported into our country, but equally important we must be responsible to limit the export of any and such illnesses, as well. Some of the health challenges we face along the US-Mexico border include high rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cancer, vector borne diseases, and other bacterial infections (such as salmonellosis and listeriosis). However, the importance of following through with vaccinations, annual physicals, proper diet and exercise would contribute to the reduction of these health risks.
Q: While we do have a high vaccination rate in Hidalgo County, are there any particular diseases prevalent or unique to our area in which citizens could be aware?
A: Our high vaccination rates are due to the commitment from our parents, local physicians, school nurses, daycare and public health partners. However, we cannot always predict what Mother Nature will bring in the form of vaccine preventable diseases; therefore, it is important that we increase our current vaccination numbers to assure limited infections. There is always a risk of some type of infectious disease affecting our community, however we continue to maintain our public health surveillance efforts in a proactive approach.
Q: What should Hidalgo County residents do to help protect themselves and others from preventable diseases?
A: Consult with your medical provider when dealing with any infectious diseases or illnesses which may be of concern to you. Educate yourself and your family on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and methods in which you can prevent the spread of illness (i.e. The four Cs — Cover your mouth when you cough/sneeze, clean your hands with soap and water, contain yourself to home when you have a fever, and consult your physician).