Measles epidemic threatens to surpass levels of decade

April 16, 1991

Maryland is well on its way toward experiencing the most severe measles epidemic in a decade, officials for the state health department said yesterday.

As of yesterday, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recorded 90 cases of measles -- more than twice the number recorded by this time last year.

Maryland recorded 204 cases by the end of last year.

This year, 56 percent of the cases have been school-age children, most of them high school students. About 35 percent have been adults, and the remainder have been children of preschool age.

State health officials attributed the epidemic to two factors: the failure of many parents to get their young children vaccinated and the failure of the vaccine to protect about 5 percent of the people who get the shot.

"All parents must make sure their children are immunized against measles at 15 months of age," said Nelson J. Sabatini, acting health secretary. Also, the department recommends a second vaccination for all 12-year-olds to guard against the possibility that the vaccine was ineffective the first time around.

Measles is a severe illness that starts with three or four days of flu-like symptoms including fever, cough and runny nose. Then, a rash appears on the face and behind the ears before spreading to the rest of the body. Severe complications include pneumonia and dehydration from fever and vomiting. In about one out of every 1,000 cases, the illness proves fatal.

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