HAP Blog

What Does a Measles ‘Comeback’ Mean for Emergency Preparedness?

January 31, 2024

This year, we’re seeing measles make an unfortunate comeback.

The headlines are local and global. Late last year, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health identified a cluster of locally acquired cases. Nationally, there have been 23 cases from December through January 23, the CDC reported last week. During 2022, measles cases increased 18 percent globally, while deaths rose 43 percent, according to a new report.

“The threat of measles exposure in the United States has been growing over the last decade,” Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said in a statement last month. “We strongly encourage parents to follow the CDC’s immunization schedule and get their children fully vaccinated as soon as they are able.”

Our communities have a shared responsibility for public health, and as emergency managers we all understand the threat measles presents our hospitals and health care facilities. We know we must do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable, especially infants who are too young for vaccination and others who are immunocompromised.

As we follow the latest public health trends, here are some important considerations for your emergency preparedness professionals:

  • Understand your risk:  Solid emergency preparedness starts with situational awareness. Are vaccination rates increasing or decreasing within your community? Is your facility near a major transportation hub, where a higher volume of travelers may mean a higher degree of risk?
  • Know the symptoms:  It can take a week or two between infection and the onset of symptoms, which develop in stages. The initial symptoms could include high fever, cough, runny nose, and red watery eyes. A few days after symptoms, you may see tiny white spots in the mouth, a measles rash, and an even higher fever.
  • Case management:  Measles is incredibly infectious, making it even more important to be able to contact trace after you learn of a case in your facility or region. What are your protocols for exposure, quarantine, and isolation to control the spread?
  • Communication:  During an outbreak, you need confident and clear communications to several different audiences, including patients, staff, and anyone with close exposure, as well as the media and the public. This is not the time to sound the alarm or raise fears, but to offer timely, accurate information that matters to everyone.
  • The bottom line:  The Philadelphia outbreak provided another reminder of the importance of vaccination. Officials noted that 90 percent of people who have close contact with an infected person will get measles if they’re not vaccinated. Additionally, one in five unvaccinated individuals who get infected will require hospitalization. Getting vaccinated is our best first line of defense.

We hope that we’ll never need to respond to a measles outbreak in our community, but we should be aware of the larger trends. When we see a public health concern on the horizon, it helps to have already thought of the action steps in your all-hazards plan.

The bottom line: with measles cases increasing globally, we must be ready to take action locally.

For questions, contact Christopher Chamberlain, MS, RN, CHEP, vice president, emergency management.


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