With the recent news regarding measles outbreaks across the United States, it is important to understand how the illness spreads, its identifying symptoms, and how to prevent it from affecting your family. Although the measles was considered eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, the anti-vaccination movement has created a break within the necessary herd immunity, allowing it to affect larger populations when present.
What Are the Measles?
Measles, also known as rubeola, is an infection that mainly affects children and is caused by an airborne virus. The disease is spread by coughing or sneezing and no direct contact with an infected individual is needed. Simply sharing airspace with that person, or touching a surface that has been in contact with the virus can acquire the illness as the virus remains active and contagious for several hours. Roughly 90% of people who have been exposed to the measles will be infected if they have not been vaccinated.
Symptoms of Measles
The most notable symptom includes a characteristic red rash that spreads over the skin in large, flat spots flowing into one another coupled with an intense, high fever. The rash appears roughly 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Along with the rash and fever, those with measles will also typically experience:
- Dry Cough
- Runny Nose
- Sore Throat
- Inflamed Eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Small white spots with bluish-white centers surrounded by red inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek
People who have the measles are contagious for about eight days; four days before the rashes appear and the four days following. Keeping isolated is essential in order to help prevent spreading the disease. The infection takes place in various stages over a period of about two to three weeks in total.
Various complications can occur as a result of the measles, including ear infections, bronchitis, laryngitis, croup, pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and problems during pregnancy. Although rare, a small number of people infected with the measles, mostly children under the age of five, may die from the infection.
Treatment of Measles
There is no specific treatment available for the measles. Over-the-counter fever medications, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen, may be used to help lower the fever and physical discomfort, but do not provide children with aspirin due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare, but potentially life-threatening illness. If the child has a vitamin A deficiency, supplements may be utilized. Be sure to also keep the infected individual hydrated.
Preventing Measles Infection
Thanks to vaccination, the measles is an entirely preventable disease. Before the development of the measles vaccine, 2.6 million people world-wide died from the illness every year. After vaccinations became available, the number of deaths plummeted to about 110,000 a year by 2017. Most of the deaths occurred largely in parts of the world where the measles vaccine is unavailable.
Cases of the measles in the United States became virtually nonexistent after the introduction of the vaccine – typically only 60 cases per year – mainly coming from travelers or recent immigrants from parts of the world where the vaccine is unavailable. According to the Centers for Disease Control, measles cases in the United States have crept upward due to the movement among some Americans to keep their children unvaccinated. Cases spiked to 667 in 2014 and 372 in 2018. As of January 31, 2019, the U.S. has already seen 79 cases confirmed in 10 states, so taking extra precaution is necessary.
The CDC recommends that all children receive two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The first dose should be administered between 12 to 15 months of age, and the second between 4 to 6 years, although the second dose may be give earlier as long as it is no sooner than 28 days after the first. The MMR vaccine is given later than some of the other vaccines because the “antibodies transferred from the mother to the baby can provide some protection from the disease and make the MMR vaccine less effective until about 1 year of age.”
Current outbreaks in Washington State and other parts of the United States are mainly being seen in communities of those who decline vaccinations for their children for ideological reasons. In these areas, children who are too young to receive the vaccine, those who are immunocompromised, and even children who have been vaccinated become at risk because the herd immunity becomes ineffective. For herd immunity to work, 95% of an at-risk population has to be inoculated for the vaccine to be effective.
Measles is not an infection that should be taken lightly. Due to its highly-contagious nature and potentially fatal complications, it is vital to take every precaution possible in protecting yourself and your children against infection. Again, the best way to stop the spread of measles and prevent infection is to get your child vaccinated.
For more information about the measles, or to schedule your child for the routine vaccination, contact us today.