Press Room

Multistate Measles Outbreak Drives Up State Health Agency Costs and Points to Importance of Quality Immunization Communication

(Jan. 27, 2015) Arlington, Virginia - With the Disneyland measles outbreak up to 87 cases in seven states as of Jan. 26, state health departments are responding to the disease by educating primary care providers and the public about measles and conducting contact tracing.

Measles is airborne and one of the most contagious diseases in existence-it can linger in a room for up to two hours after the infected person has left. It also remains pervasive around the world and can easily be imported into other countries. WHO reports that although measles deaths decreased by 73 percent worldwide between 2000 and 2013, measles still caused 145,700 deaths globally in 2013.

"Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. Sadly, this status is endangered," says Paul Jarris, MD, MBA, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) executive director. "Many parents and physicians have never seen a case of measles before. This outbreak demonstrates why we can never let our guard down against vaccine-preventable diseases."

Due to its highly infectious nature, health departments have to respond rapidly and thoroughly to contain outbreaks and save lives. If a measles patient has traveled to school, the grocery store, or any other public space, a large group of people may have been exposed to the disease. State health departments are responsible for ensuring that patients are isolated to prevent further spread. They then identify potential contacts, educate them about measles symptoms, advise them on when to go to the doctor, and encourage them to become immunized if they aren't already.

"At ASTHO, I'm proud of the work that the California Department of Public Health and other states are doing to protect our children by containing this outbreak, preventing future ones, and bringing us closer to maintaining full elimination status," Jarris says.

In addition to the time spent containing a measles outbreak, responding to them is expensive for state and local governments. A March 2014 study found that there were 16 measles outbreaks in 2011 that resulted in 107 cases, which cost local and state public health departments an estimated $2.7 million to $5.3 million.

However, these outbreaks and their time and economic burdens are preventable. Every dollar spent on the child measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine saves $23.30, according to CDC.

"This is an important opportunity for public health to continue to articulate the benefits of immunization," says Kathy Talkington, ASTHO's senior director of immunization and infectious disease. "This measles outbreak illustrates that we live in a global world, and as long as these diseases exist in other countries, we must continue to protect ourselves in all communities through high immunization rates."

See ASTHO's blog StatePublicHealth.org for the full article on the measles outbreak, as well as tips on how public health professionals can communicate with the public and primary care providers about how vaccines can prevent outbreaks and save lives.

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ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in state-based public health practice.

Contact: Scott Briscoe (571) 527‐3173; cell (703) 328-2761; sbriscoe@astho.org. Follow us on Twitter.