NOV 07, 2018 1:26 PM PST

Herd Protection Against Measles

WRITTEN BY: Nicholas Breehl

The power of herd immunity is a very protective resource when it comes to patients with weakened immune systems. A 26-year-old man recently died of measles infection, in spite of his vaccination as a child, due to a weakened immune system. The outcome of this patient might have been better if the power of herd immunity had been harnessed.

A man suffering from leukemia was admitted into a Swiss hospital with a fever, sore throat, and cough. After 17 days his condition declined, and he passed away from measles. The man was receiving treatment for his cancer that included chemotherapy that ultimately caused his immune system to falter. This degraded state allowed for measles exposure to take his body over.

The report was shared in the Open Forum Infectious Diseases making known the criticality of keeping the majority of the public vaccinated to help protect those with compromised immune systems like cancer patients, newborns, and the elderly.

Herd immunity is known as the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population that results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease, primarily through vaccination.

Measles are characterized by the onset of fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat followed by a rash that will spread over the body. The virus causing measles is a very contagious pathogen that spreads through the air via coughing and sneezing. The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination can help to protect those vaccinated.

"Measles is not harmless, it's a serious disease," said the report's lead author, Philipp Jent, MD, of Bern University Hospital and the University of Bern in Switzerland. "There is a responsibility to vaccinate yourself to protect others, not only to protect yourself."

Although this patient had received his vaccination in the 1990s, he developed progressive rashes, mouth sores, and conjunctivitis (pink-eye). A sample swab from the back of the throat was used to confirm the measles. The patient received treatment of ribavirin (anti-viral), antibodies and vitamin A, none of which, however, proved to do any good. In his final stages, the patient developed pneumonia.

In the last few years, the rates of vaccine-preventable disease have been on the rise. This is happening throughout the world. These outbreaks begin with the unvaccinated individuals. They spread through these individuals. Outbreaks can thrive due to faltering herd immunity. When there are high vaccination rates, those that can become infected and spread the disease are lessened, thereby offering protection to those with impaired immune systems or those that cannot receive the vaccination.

Data released by CDC in October also showed a gradual but concerning climb in the numbers of U.S. children who reach their second birthday without having received any recommended vaccines.

"Ongoing efforts to raise confidence in vaccines and increase population immunity should be intensified," the authors wrote in the case report's conclusion. Physicians caring for people with compromised immune systems, the authors noted, should also ensure that those in close contact with these patients, such as family members and friends, are fully vaccinated.

Sources: Open Forum Infectious Diseases, CDC, Science Daily, YouTube

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
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