ELLSWORTH — Measles has arrived in Maine, according to a press release from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The state joins 24 others around the country where the disease has been confirmed.
The Somerset County child who fell ill is vaccinated, has fully recovered and did not have any serious complications, according to the CDC. It is the first case in the state since 2017, when an unvaccinated woman was diagnosed with measles after traveling overseas.
The CDC listed a range of locations and dates between April 30 and May 6 where exposure could have occurred, including Madison junior and senior high schools, Waterville Pediatrics and the Redington Fairview Emergency Department.
The agency said it had notified the facilities and recommended that anyone who had been potentially exposed “should review their vaccine history and monitor for symptoms. Those who are not immunized or do not know their measles immunization status should get vaccinated with at least one dose of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to protect from subsequent exposures.”
The nationwide measles outbreak is the largest in 25 years, with the federal CDC having confirmed 880 confirmed cases in 24 states. Maine will bring that number to at least 25 once statistics are updated.
Measles mainly affects children, with 110,000 deaths from the disease reported worldwide in 2017, according to the World Health Organization. Most of those who died were less than 5 years old.
Before the vaccine was developed in 1963, major epidemics occurred every two or three years, resulting in 400 to 500 deaths annually in the United States and 2.6 million worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization.
The CDC recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine be given to children before they turn 6. Roughly 3 percent of those who have been vaccinated will still get measles if they are exposed to the virus, according to the CDC.
“Experts aren’t sure why,” officials wrote in the release. “It could be that their immune systems didn’t respond as well as they should have to the vaccine or their immune system’s ability to fight the infection decreased over time. However, disease symptoms are generally milder in vaccinated people and they are less likely to spread measles.”
The herd immunity threshold for measles — the point at which the disease becomes less likely to circulate because a large enough pool of people have been vaccinated — is between 93 and 95 percent, according to the World Health Organization.
Hancock County’s students do not meet the threshold, with 91.5 percent of 449 kindergartners having received two doses of MMR vaccine in 2018-2019, according to the state CDC.
In the past 28 years, a total 565 reports of possible adverse reactions associated with MMR vaccines have been filed in Maine, according to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. (This does not mean that health officials determined the vaccine caused the reaction, only that those symptoms were reported after vaccination.)
The vast majority of reports have been associated with the live vaccine. About 85-90 percent of the reports describe mild side effects such as fever, arm soreness, and crying or mild irritability.
The MMR vaccine has been linked with a very small risk of febrile seizures, according to the CDC, which are rare and not associated with any long-term side effects. The risk of febrile seizures increases as a child ages, which is why the CDC recommends early vaccination. Allergic reactions have also been reported but are extremely rare.
The confirmed case comes as a bill that would end religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccinations appears close to being signed into law. The House voted to enact the legislation on May 21, and it will now head to the Senate for a procedural vote. Governor Janet Mills has indicated that she supports the measure.
In the Somerset County case, the CDC also recommends that those who may have been exposed and begin to develop symptoms (the disease is characterized by flu-like symptoms followed by a rash that spreads from the head to the trunk and lower extremities) call a health provider for instructions before going to an office or hospital, “to ensure precautions are taken to prevent further infection.”