CHICAGO — If current trends continue, doctors said, 2019 could see the worst measles outbreak in the U.S. in decades.
Illinois is one of 10 states with confirmed cases of measles in the first two months of 2019. Nearly 160 people across the U.S. have contracted the virus — including a man who traveled through Chicago Midway International Airport last week.
Health officials said he was at the airport Feb. 22 and then sought treatment at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in suburban Geneva on Feb. 24-25.
People who are infected could develop symptoms as late as March 20. These include a rash, high fever, a cough, a runny nose and red, watery eyes.
Dr. Robert Murphy of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said most of the measles cases doctors are seeing come from unvaccinated communities.
This week on Capitol Hill, health experts told lawmakers that despite success combatting the virus in the U.S., measles continues to circulate globally. Now, doctors said, the anti-vaccine community in the U.S. is contributing to new outbreaks.
“What they believe in is total junk science. Total junk,” Murphy said. “There is no evidence the measles vaccine or any other vaccine causes autism.”
Measles is one of the most contagious respiratory infections. It starts with a rash, and can lead to severe complications like pneumonia, encephalitis and even death.
The MMR vaccine — which is 97-percent effective — protects against measles, mumps and rubella.
Health experts said there is a lot of misinformation out there. Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler this week, for example, said he's not worried about measles because you can take antibiotics for it — but doctors point out that measles is a virus and there’s no treatment for it.
“If you don't believe in science or vaccines, you're going to suffer the consequences,” Murphy said. “But what happens to the rest of the community — kids under 1 or someone who has a really bad immunodeficiency, they're going to be at risk. And they're going to suffer because these people who can take the vaccine are not taking the vaccine.”
Doctors recommend children get two doses of the MMR vaccine. Those born before 1957 don't need to get the shot.