Doctor involvement in the spread of measles

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

New York parents may worry about the rising numbers of measles cases as the country is dealing with a January 2015 outbreak of the disease. One of the most common concerns related to the increasing reports of measles is the fact that some parents have refused to vaccinate their children. A 92 percent rate of vaccination is necessary to achieve herd immunity, a status in which those who can’t be vaccinated are protected because of the immunity of others. However, medical experts indicate that physicians may be playing a role in allowing the disease to spread as well.

Because measles has been so well-controlled through immunization programs, today’s pediatricians don’t have a lot of experience in seeing and diagnosing the disease. Symptoms of the disease are typically not evident right away, and it can take an estimated four days after a child becomes contagious for such symptoms to become evident. There are other illnesses that can produce similar symptoms as well.

These diagnostic difficulties make it possible for a medical error through misdiagnosis to take place. In such a situation, a child with a case of measles could be permitted to continue to infect others. Meanwhile, incorrectly diagnosing a child with measles when this is not their issue could result in incorrect treatment. Experts are recommending that health care providers work to better familiarize themselves with the symptoms of measles. Additionally, they are urging these professionals to maintain a vigilant attitude and high suspicion level when measles is a possibility.

Because measles is more difficult to diagnose, a parent whose child contracts the disease might have difficulty in proving that medical malpractice has occurred. However, a case of obvious oversight or a lack of vigilance in a medical office might justify legal action, especially if evidence exists to support allegations of ignoring a case of measles.

Source: ABC News, “How Doctors and Parents May Be Contributing to the Rise of Measles”, Liz Neporent, Jan. 28, 2015

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