Joe Knows MOSES

THE MOUSE & THE MEASLES: How MOSES Epidemiologists stay on top of this highly infectious disease.

IB Image

(Photo credit: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/ZUMA)

Earlier this year, the "happiest place on earth" became home to the measles, the highly infectious disease which can be transmitted through the air and can lead to pneumonia and encephalitis, among other serious consequences. To date, 117 cases of the disease in the U.S. have been linked to California's Disneyland, out of the 169 cases nationwide (as of May 1, 2015). 

Though not related to the Disney outbreak, here in Massachusetts, a visiting, unvaccinated exchange student from Western Europe developed measles this past April and exposed hundreds in greater Boston, the North Shore and in neighboring states to the disease. Over 700 people were contacted by state and local public health professionals and were provided with recommendations for post-exposure follow-up. To date, there have not been any subsequent cases associated to the visiting exchange student.

MOSES member Stephen Fleming, an epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health, explains, "We are fortunate in the Commonwealth, given our high vaccination rates, but we are by no means exempt from the disease. Here at DPH, we are constantly on the lookout for measles and reaching out to hospital staff and local boards of health to ensure that suspect cases will be recognized early and reported." 

In 2000, the US Centers for Disease Control declared measles eliminated in the United States, thanks in large part to an effective vaccine. But because of anti-vaccination concerns, fueled by false claims about links between vaccines and autism, many parents have opted out of vaccinating their kids, leaving them-and others, including children too young to be vaccinated-vulnerable.

Here in Massachusetts, there were eight confirmed cases in 2014, and one case in a visitor. From these nine cases, over 3,500 people were exposed and over 500 received post-exposure vaccination. 

Massachusetts consistently has a very high percentage (95% or higher) of children age 19 months to 35 months who receive the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Although state law requires vaccination before children can attend school, parents may obtain an exemption by providing a medical reason or merely stating that vaccination is against their sincere religious belief. Over the past dozen-plus years, the number who obtained exemptions increased from less than 1 percent in the 2000-2001 school year to 1.5 percent in 2013-14. In certain parts of the state, as well, exemption rates are much higher: over 5 percent in Franklin, Nantucket and Duke's (Martha's Vineyard) Counties, for example, among kindergarten students.

But thanks to the efforts of Fleming, along with fellow epidemiologists Christina Brandeburg, Meagan Burns, Joyce Cohen, Nancy Harrington, Rosa Hernandez, Hillary Johnson, Omotola Kalejaiye and Marija Popstefanija, all MOSES members, the closely knit team works with local boards of health and hospital infection control practitioners to ensure suspect cases are recognized and proper procedures followed. The team also works very closely with other MOSES members within the Hinton State Laboratory, where much of the measles testing takes place. Fleming shares, "From circulating advisories from the CDC on what symptoms to look for to sharing on-call duties 24-7/365, we strive to recognize measles early and limit the spread, and so far, we are good with regards to the Disney outbreak and the visiting student." 

Additional, but not all duties of the epidemiologists include advocacy for prevention of the disease, speaking at annual trainings and regional immunization update events.

Upcoming Events

Aug 11
Tuesday, August 11, 2015 - 9:00am - 5:00pm

Featured video

  • MOSES members making a difference around the world. Each year, MOSES scientists and engineers donate their time to Engineers without Borders. Here is just a small sampling of the good and important work they do.

IB Image  

IB Image