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San Antonio Health Official Says Young Children Most At Risk For Measles

By CDC/NIP/Barbara Rice (http://phil.cdc.gov/phil/ (ID#: 132)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

San Antonio health officials say the outbreak of measles in California traced to Disneyland hasn't made its way to South Texas. At least not yet. 

Texas Public Radio’s Shelley Kofler talked with Dr. Thomas Schlenker, Director of Health for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, about concerns. Who is most at risk? Why aren't some children vaccinated? Read excerpts from the interview below.

Question:  Measles was a common childhood illness for baby boomers.  Why is there such a big concern now- almost a panic- that children are getting the measles?

Dr. Schlenker:  I also was of the generation where we all got measles when we were children.  Most of us survived just fine.  But actually many had problems that persisted, like hearing loss, for example. And there were hundreds who died every year in the United States in those days before the vaccine.

Measles was considered eliminated in the United States about the year 2000.  Then, after about 13, 14 years, it started to creep back.  And that’s what we’re starting to see now.  So it’s a new twist to an old disease.

Question:  Is it the same disease?

Dr. Schlenker:  Yes, it’s exactly the same disease, starting with coughing; red, inflamed, itchy eyes; fever; mouth and throat that become quite inflamed; and the characteristic rash.

Younger physicians now, most of them have never seen a case of measles.  I know many of the young docs are shocked at how serious an illness it is.

Question:  Currently, more than 100 measles cases in several states have been linked to people who visited or worked in Disneyland in California.  What is the risk for measles spreading to the San Antonio area?

Dr. Schlenker:  I think it’s increasing every day that the national numbers increase.  Until this point we haven’t had any measles cases in San Antonio, but one could arrive tomorrow.

Question:  Who is the most at risk?

Dr. Schlenker:  The most at risk are babies who are too young to be vaccinated.  They are not vaccinated until they are 12 to 15 months old. So little babies if they become exposed to measles are likely to get it.  Because they are so young there are much more serious repercussions.

Question:  Do adults need to be vaccinated?

Dr. Schlenker:  If they have somehow escaped that (vaccination) in their childhood, they should be vaccinated.  Adults in high risk occupations- say you work in a hospital- if you are of the generation that only had one measles shot when you grew up, you should have a second one like everyone else nowadays.

Question:  Over the past decade there’s been some concern that the vaccination rate for students here in Texas isn’t as high as in other parts of the country.  How are we doing?

Dr. Schlenker:  Currently in San Antonio we aren’t doing too badly. For our school aged children, about 94 percent are up to date with both of their shots.  However, even though a few percentages of them are not vaccinated, that’s a couple thousand kids.  Measles is so contagious it’s still a danger if there are only a few thousand children out there who are not vaccinated.

Question:  The state is reporting there are about 38,000 students who’ve been exempted from vaccinations this past school year.  Those not vaccinated are still allowed to attend school.  Why are parents choosing not to vaccinate their children? 

Dr. Schlenker:  Some children have legitimate reasons for not being vaccinated.  There are medical reasons- if you have a severe immune deficiency or if you had a serious allergic reaction in the past.  But that’s about 1 percent (of all children).  Then there are some religions that just don’t believe in modern medicine and they are not forced to get vaccinated in the United States.  Somehow, those kids need to be accommodated and they are allowed to go to school. 

What’s disturbing, though, is that there’s a third category of children who are not vaccinated, and the parents of these children do not have any specific religious objection and they have no medical reason. They are among those who just apparently seem to be misinformed, misguided.

Question:  Many of them believe there are side effects.

Dr. Schlenker:  That’s a false belief. The side effects from the vaccines we use in the United States are very rare.  It’s about one in a million.

Shelley Kofler is Texas Public Radio’s news director. She joined the San Antonio station in December 2014 and leads a growing staff that produces two weekly programs; a daily talk show, news features, reports and online content. Prior to TPR, Shelley served as the managing editor and news director at KERA in Dallas-Fort Worth, and the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.