Measles: What To Know About Vaccinations, Prevention, and Liability

For one audience in California, a trip to see Avengers: Endgame might have left them with a lot more than emotions about their favorite superheroes. People at an Endgame showing in Orange County were potentially exposed to measles, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

This isn’t the only measles story in the news, either. All across the United States and even in our very own Pinellas County, there have been stories about outbreaks of measles—a disease that as recently as 2000, was fully eradicated as an endemic disease.

Here’s what you need to know about measles, vaccinations, and the complex liabilities of holding someone responsible for an illness outbreak.

What is Measles?

Measles, or rubeola, is a highly contagious virus that can lead to a serious viral infection. It lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person, and spreads through airborne transmission. Measles can stay in an airspace for up to two hours. Additionally, it is so contagious that 90% of people who come into contact with an infected person will become sick if they are not immune.

Symptoms generally appear within 7 to 14 days of infection, and often include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Koplik spots, or tiny white spots that appear on the tongue
  • A rash, usually characterized by raised red bumps

Measles can be life-threatening for any age group. It is most dangerous for children, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems, like someone with AIDS or cancer. The infection can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia, permanent hearing loss, and brain swelling. If a pregnant woman contracts measles, it can also lead to complications like premature birth or low birth weight.

The Cause of Outbreaks

Throughout history, measles wreaked havoc on people across the world. It is blamed for the deaths of eight million children worldwide before the introduction of a vaccine in 1968. Like vaccines for other illnesses, such as polio or the flu, the measles vaccine builds up the immune system by introducing weakened antigens into the body.

Vaccines are a highly effective way of combating disease, and worked very well for eradicating measles. Once the measles vaccine became readily available, the rate of measles dropped significantly in developed countries, and was no longer an endemic disease by 2000.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing opposition to vaccines. People in the “anti-vaccination” movement oppose vaccines for a variety of reasons. These reasons include religious beliefs, distrust of medicine, or the belief that vaccines are linked to autism. Additionally, someone people are unable to vaccinate due to other health issues, like allergies or immune system disorders.

Due to these concerns, more and more people have chosen not to vaccinate themselves and their children. While choosing not to vaccinate is a personal choice, it has likely led to the increase in preventable diseases, like measles, as unvaccinated people become ill and then rapidly spread the illness to others, including those who cannot vaccinate for health reasons.

Measles Liability

When someone chooses not to vaccinate, for whatever reason, it can lead to unintentional dangers for others. That said, it is hard to take legal action against an unvaccinated person who spreads a disease like measles. To prevent the spread of diseases, vaccination is a reasonable action. This means that technically, someone could be seeing as negligent if they do not take that reasonable action. However, to prove that a non-vaccinated person is negligent, the harmed person would have to show that a single individual was responsible for their illness. They would also need to prove that the illness was intentionally spread, which is not usually the case.

Vaccination Concerns

On the other side of things, some might worry that they could be forced to vaccinate. In certain workplace environments, particularly healthcare, vaccinations might be heavily encouraged. This is because being unvaccinated could be a serious health risk for young or compromised patients and clients. But even so, most workplaces will likely have alternative options, like wearing a mask, that keep the workplace safe without forcing people to violate their beliefs. Public schools also require vaccinations against illnesses like measles, polio, and chickenpox, but their parents can ask for a religious exemption.

Tips for Staying Healthy

Whether you chose to vaccinate or not, there are still some steps you can take to prevent a measles outbreak in your community:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and face
  • Avoid close contact, like sharing food or drinks, especially with people who are sick
  • If you are sick, stay at home and keep sick children away from classmates, friends, and others until they recover

Vaccinations are a currently a complex and hotly-debated topic in the United States, but in the face of measles outbreaks like the one in Pinellas County, everyone should do what they can to prevent the further spread of illness.

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The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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