Chrysan Cronin Discusses Measles And Vaccination in the United States
Chrysan Cronin, lecturer in biology and director of Muhlenberg’s public health program, is closely following the recent measles outbreaks across the United States. The students in her classes now have an opportunity to relate the skills learned in the classroom to policies and reactions on a national level.
Measles is a highly-contagious viral disease that is carried in the nose and throat of infected individuals. The virus may be transmitted through coughing or sneezing, and it survives on surfaces outside of the human body for up to two hours. Individuals may contract the virus through exposure to someone who is infected or by touching their eyes, nose or mouth after contacting a contaminated surface.
Prior to the development of a measles vaccine in 1963, approximately three to four million people contracted the virus each year in the United States, resulting in 400-500 deaths per year. As a result of an effective vaccination program, however, outbreaks became less frequent, so much so that by the year 2000, the disease was considered to be eliminated in the US, meaning cases weren’t seen for 12 months or longer at a time.
There are two types of vaccines: some vaccines contain killed strains of the infectious agent, while others, including the measles vaccine, are live-attenuated. It contains viral samples that have been weakened or may be incomplete.
“The vaccine enables your immune system to react to it and create something called memory cells, so that should you ever be exposed to that disease again, you’ll have a much faster, stronger response to it,” says Cronin. “You might not even know that you’ve been exposed.”
The measles vaccine is part of the measles, mumps, and rubella inoculation recommended for children. It has proven incredibly potent. After the first dose, usually administered to children between 12 and 15 months of age, the vaccine is up to 93% effective. After the second dose, usually given between the ages of four and six years old, the vaccine proves to be approximately 97% effective.
In recent years, however, a decline in vaccinated populations has led to a resurgence of the disease in the United States. An Amish community in Ohio experienced an outbreak in 2014, leaving over 350 individuals infected. Over 600 people contracted the disease last year in the United States, a figure that Cronin calls disheartening considering the history of treatment and prevention.
“There are a number of reasons that children may remain unvaccinated, some philosophical, some religious,” says Cronin. “But the fact remains that kids can’t take themselves to the doctor; that’s up to the parents. Unvaccinated children introduce risks to those with immunity issues, those too young to be vaccinated and those who are pregnant or elderly.”
Public health is an interdisciplinary study that focuses on the protection and improvement of health for individuals, communities and populations at risk for injury and disease. The curriculum extends across the natural sciences, mathematics, social sciences and humanities to educate and empower students about health related issues from varying points of view. Public health has been offered as a minor at Muhlenberg College since 2006, and beginning in the fall 2015 semester, students will be able to major in public health at ‘Berg.