Diana G. Wilkins, MD, and medical student Ju Joh.

Diana G. Wilkins, MD (right), is preparing Ju Joh and other medical students for the “real possibility” they may see patients with measles, following recent outbreaks.

Medical Educators Prepare Students to Assess, Treat Measles

Published February 13, 2015

Although measles was declared eliminated in the United States 15 years ago, recent outbreaks are spurring medical educators — including those at the University at Buffalo — to place a stronger emphasis on the disease in their lectures and clinical training.

“Because many students complete their family medicine rotations in primary care physicians’ offices, they are on the front line taking care of sick kids and could be the ones seeing a potential case of measles. ”
Diana G. Wilkins, MD
Clinical assistant professor of family medicine
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Erie County has not seen a case of measles since 2010, according to the Department of Health, but 644 cases were reported nationwide throughout 2014.

An upward trend is continuing into the new year, with 102 cases of measles reported in January across 14 states.

‘Measles Has to Be On Our Radar’

Measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases have always been part of the medical education curriculum at UB.

Until recently, however, measles “hasn’t been high on the list of diseases medical trainees are told to look for,” says Diana G. Wilkins, MD, clinical assistant professor of family medicine and director of the family medicine residency program.

But this month, when Wilkins teaches third-year medical students in their family medicine clinical clerkship, she will discuss the real possibility that they may see patients with measles.

“Because many students complete their family medicine rotations in primary care physicians’ offices, they are on the front line taking care of sick kids and could be the ones seeing a potential case of measles,” Wilkins says.

“Until the recent outbreaks, when patients came to a doctor’s office with a fever, runny nose and cough, it would make sense to think, ‘Oh that’s a typical virus; you’ll get better in a few days,’ ” she says. “Now, measles has to be on our radar.”

Lack of Full Immunization May Spread Disease

Mark D. Hicar, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics, plans to revise his standard infectious disease lecture for medical students. Instead of a brief mention of measles, he will detail the disease’s subtleties of presentation, current treatments, severity and infectiousness, he says.

In addition, measles will be a major topic in his Department of Pediatrics Grand Rounds presentation this spring.

Whether measles becomes a continuing or major health concern will depend on vaccination practices.

People who are either unvaccinated or partially immunized may become infected and spread measles in isolated outbreaks, Hicar notes.

“If the number of people in these two groups rises high enough, measles may once again become endemic in the United States,” he says.