BD's Take: The measles outbreak

May 29, 2019


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The measles outbreak in the United States this year has affected more than 900 people in 23 states, the largest number of cases since 1994. On May 6, the World Health Organization issued a warning in Europe as 34,000 cases were reported in the first two months. What’s driving this new outbreak from a disease that was declared “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000? We sat down with Dr. Tobi Karchmer, an infectious disease expert and vice president of Global Medical Safety at BD, to understand some of the drivers for the recent outbreak.

First, Dr. Karchmer explains, most people haven’t personally experienced measles because there has been a vaccine since the 1960s. And when people think of measles, they relate to something more familiar, like chicken pox. However, measles is a much more dangerous condition than chicken pox for two primary reasons.

  1. Measles is extremely contagious — more so than chicken pox or other infectious diseases like influenza, Ebola or SARS.
  2. The effects and consequences of contracting measles can be more severe than other “childhood” diseases.

“If you are in an enclosed room with someone who has measles and you have not been vaccinated, there is a 90% chance you will contract the disease,” Dr. Karchmer explains. “In diseases like chicken pox, it is rare to have severe negative outcomes or death, but that’s not the case with measles. Permanent deficiencies like deafness or brain damage are not uncommon with measles cases.”

The Vaccination Debate

The primary driver of the measles outbreak is the antivaccination movement, which affects different communities of people. Some object to vaccinations on religious grounds, and others cite debunked information that the vaccine leads to autism. This is why you see pockets of outbreaks, which typically occur in populations that aren’t vaccinated.

Dr. Karchmer elaborates that in populations with a higher percentage of vaccinated people, there is an effect known as “herd immunity” where those who are vaccinated act as a protective barrier to those who aren’t. However, in populations with lower percentages of vaccinated individuals, infectious diseases like measles propagate very quickly.

BD Role in Vaccines

BD has a long history of supporting vaccinations. In fact, BD was integral to the first large-scale vaccination effort for Polio in the 1950s. BD supplied the syringes that were used to inoculate more than 1 million school children across 44 states, known as the Polio Pioneers. In 2018, BD donated 20 million syringes to vaccinate children in four states within India. The donation contributed toward maintaining a polio-free India while the final steps are being taken to prevent this debilitating disease globally.

Today, BD plays an ever-increasing role in providing the appropriate injection devices to the pharmaceutical industry in the form of pre-fillable syringes, auto-disable pre-fillable injection systems, and nasal spray systems, and directly to health care providers with our safety-engineered syringes and needles. In fact, BD Hypak® for Vaccines is used by the top five global vaccine manufacturers. BD also has decades of experience with legislative and regulatory bodies to provide data and expert consultation during the preparation of regulatory submissions to support vaccine manufacturers that use a BD device for their vaccines. BD also continues to be actively engaged with various government agencies and ministries of health to ensure that there is sufficient supply and availability of appropriate devices to meet the needs of country populations in the event of a biological incident, such as the measles outbreak, or other type of biological agent event. 

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About Dr. Karchmer
Dr. Tobi Karchmer has more than 15 years of clinical experience in adult infectious diseases. The majority of her training and practice focused on multi-drug resistance bacteria, health care worker safety, patient safety and infection prevention. Prior to BD, Dr. Karchmer was an assistant professor of Infectious Disease Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Dr. Karchmer also has over a decade of experience in clinical research to support the development and registration of medical devices and in vitro diagnostics

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