As measles hits 21 states, health organizations urge people to vaccinate

Whether it’s newsjacking or a tweet from the CEO, hospitals and others are urging the public to protect themselves and their children.

Health care websites, government agencies and news outlets are stepping up campaigns urging people to get a measles vaccination as the disease spreads across a wide swath of the country.

Through July 14, measles had infected 107 people in 21 states and the District of Columbia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Aug. 15. The figure approaches the total of 118 for all of last year.

The response has ranged from tweets to brand journalism articles. Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas, reported on its news site, ” Doctors Fear Measles Outbreak Could Happen in Texas . State among 21 reporting cases of disease once thought eliminated.”

Cook Children’s content manager Jeff Calaway called the story posted yesterday “good old-fashioned newsjacking.”

Calaway wrote the piece after seeing the reports from the CDC and Texas Health and Human Services department, he says. “I then used our pediatricians—Dr. Smith and Dr. Terk—to bring our perspective, and then used local numbers to tie in everything,” he says.

The story has done well. Wednesday, it had 667 retweets, 500 “likes” and 114 comments on Twitter alone, Calaway says. In turn, it drew news media attention.

“Dr. Smith did an interview this morning on our local CBS affiliate radio station. He was asked to do a TV interview this afternoon, but he was busy,” Calaway says.

Tapping in-house expertise

Other hospitals have found their experts in demand. The Star-Telegram newspaper editorial board quoted the director of Houston-based Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development as it urged people not to listen to the anti-vaccine movement.

“We’re urging parents of children heading back to school in several weeks to listen to the medical community, and reject the false, though sometimes sincere, cries from the ‘anti-vaxxers’ who are encouraging risky behavior,” the editorial stated.

The study by the Texas Children’s expert found that parents of at least 518 kindergartners in Tarrant County schools last year decided not to get preventative shots for their children. “All of this is based on phony information,” he was quoted as saying.

From Jan. 1 through July 14, the CDC recorded cases of measles in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and the District of Columbia, CNN reports .

Symptoms include high fever, rash all over the body, stuffy nose and reddened eyes. It is spread by coughing and sneezing.

“In the decade before the live measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an average of 549,000 measles cases and 495 measles deaths were reported annually in the United States,” the CDC states. “However, it is likely that, on average, 3 to 4 million people were infected with measles annually; most cases were not reported. Of the reported cases, approximately 48,000 people were hospitalized from measles and 1,000 people developed chronic disability from acute encephalitis caused by measles annually.”

In 2000, health officials declared that measles was eliminated from the United States, CDC reports, meaning absence of virus transmission for 12 months or longer. Nevertheless, measles cases still occur every year in the United States because people carry the disease from where it is still commonly transmitted. Worldwide, an estimated 89,780 die from measles each year.

A global concern

Earlier this summer, health officials warned the throngs who planned to attend the World Cup in Russia from to watch out for signs and symptoms of measles as an outbreak of the viral illness plagued Europe, Fox News reported .

“We’re advising fans heading to Russia for the World Cup to ensure they are up to date with their MMR vaccine because of measles outbreaks across the continent,” Public Health of England said in a statement.

This week, health care officials in the United States and abroad are using their personal accounts to amplify the vaccination message. Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, tweeted:

Seth Berkley, the Geneva-based CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, warned:

Some organizations, however, missed the opportunity to make their case. The CDC report would seem to be a must-tweet matter for the Measles & Rubella Initiative , but that organization hasn’t posted since it retweeted Sky News May 11 .

Honey, not vinegar

Health organizations sought a persuasive tone, rather than hectoring the minority who don’t vaccinate. Health and Human Services tweeted:

The World Health Organization echoed the message:

By contrast, some individuals, including journalists, expressed exasperation on private accounts.

Among TV stations and networks, some sought to localize the message, while others noted the geographic range of the outbreak. Detroit TV WXYZ tweeted:

A local Fox News affiliate covering Missouri and Kansas stated:

A disabled woman offered a reminder that vaccination is not simply a personal issue. The decision not to vaccinate affects others:

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