DES MOINES, Iowa -- After measles was completely eliminated from the United States in 2000, the country is now seeing the highest number of confirmed measles cases in the past five years. Twenty states have reported cases to the CDC. Now, Iowa is joining them, confirming the first case of measles in the state since 2011.
“I’ve been through this with my son and it was excruciating to watch him be in the kind of pain that he was in. To see him suffer and to know that you could have helped prevent that, or that you could’ve done something to make that not have to happen, that broke my heart,” Jessie Todd said. For the Des Moines metro resident, hearing that measles is back in Iowa for the first time in eight years is hard.
“Because my son’s cancer started with a rash, When I would see pictures of measles outbreaks, the rash looked so similar to what my son had experienced, and it just really pulled at my heartstrings,” Todd said.
Diagnosed back when her son, Lincoln, was just five months old, he was not able to get the vaccines other kids could, because of his weak immune system. And that left him vulnerable.
“During that time I was extra nervous because all it would be was an interaction at the grocery store, or a friend at my daughter’s school that may have made that choice that would’ve put my family at risk,” Todd said.
Now Lincoln is six years old and in remission, but Todd still worries for the other immunocompromised children in Iowa after a northeastern Iowan, who was unvaccinated, became infected.
“It breaks my heart for the kids who aren’t vaccinated, and it breaks my heart for kids who are immunocompromised,” Todd said. “We shouldn’t put our kids at risk when we know that there is a way to support and help them.”
That help is a vaccination, known as MMR. The Iowa Department of Public Health Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati says it’s crucial to make sure Iowa doesn’t see this spread, like it has in other states. In New York City, there are currently 229 reported cases this year.
“We hope that people will continue to get their MMRs, which will prevent something like this from spreading, so that we don’t wind up in a situation where we see more cases like some of these other states,” Pedati said.
According to the Polk County Health Department, three percent of enrolled students in Polk County schools are not fully vaccinated. Religious exemptions to immunizations continues to rise in the county, up 15.6 percent from last year. That’s something Pedati says is not in the best interest for the public, since measles is highly contagious.
“If everybody stays up to date on their vaccinations, they should be protected and it’s a really good and really important tool to use,” Pedati said.
Pedati also says the risk due to complications with measles, which is about one in every 1,000, far outweighs the rare risks associated with vaccinations.
The Iowan who contracted measles recently returned from Israel where measles transmission is occurring.