Living Well

Five Things Parents Should Know about the Measles

Last updated: Feb 13, 2017

Measles is making headlines again in the new year. An infant who had not been vaccinated and an adult who traveled overseas were recently diagnosed with the highly contagious disease in North Jersey. In 2016, there was not a single case reported in the garden state.

“It is concerning to see a disease that had once been eliminated in the U.S. resurfacing in our area,” says Daniel E. Hermann, MD, MPH, Chair of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Summit Medical Group. “I urge parents to get their children vaccinated on time—waiting until they are older unnecessarily puts their entire family and others at serious risk.”  

Here are five things Dr. Hermann says you should know about the virus:  

1. Measles looks like a cold or the flu at first.  

  • Most cases begin with mild or moderate symptoms including fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat.
  • Two days later, tiny white spots often appear in the mouth.  
  • Three to five days later, a telltale red blotchy rash breaks out. It typically starts on the face and then spreads down the body. Fevers often spike as high as 104 degrees when the rash appears.
  • The illness usually lasts between one and two weeks.

2. The virus is highly contagious.    

  • Measles spreads through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes.
  • Ninety percent of people who are not vaccinated or have a compromised immune system will contract measles if they are exposed.
  • The virus can live for up to two hours on a surface. That means you can get measles without ever being in the same room as an infected individual. Wash your hands!
  • You can spread measles four days before and four days after the rash appears.
  • Infants (who are too young to receive the vaccine), pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus.

3. Measles can be serious, particularly in children.

  • There is no specific treatment for measles.
  • About one in four people in the U.S. who get the virus will need to be hospitalized.
  • Measles can lead to serious complications, such as brain swelling and pneumonia. Vitamin A supplements may help decrease these complications.
  • Even with the best medical care, one or two out of every 1,000 people with measles will die.

4. Outbreaks still occur in the U.S. 

  • In 2000, the CDC declared measles eliminated in the U.S. However, since 2010, between 63 and 667 cases have been reported each year.
  • As more parents decide not to vaccinate their children or delay vaccinations, outbreaks become more common.
  • Measles is still a widespread problem in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Most cases in the U.S. occur when people who are not immunized travel abroad.  

5. The MMR vaccine is safe and effective.

  • Get vaccinated! Make sure everyone in your family has the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
  • There is no link between vaccines and autism.
  • The best way to protect you and your family is to stick to the recommended immunization schedule:
    • The first dose at 12 through 15 months of age
    • The second dose at 4 through 6 years of age
    • Babies traveling outside the U.S. can be given the MMR vaccine at 6 through 11 months of age. However, this does not count as one of the MMR shots required for school entry. They will still need two more doses at the recommended intervals. 
  • You do not need a 2nd booster shot after the 4 to 6 year vaccine. Once you receive two doses of MMR, it is 97% effective.

References:

  1. Interview with Daniel E. Hermann, MD, MPH, Chair of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Summit Medical Group.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles Cases and Outbreaks. Web. 2017 Jan 10.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Questions about Measles in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 2016 June 17. 
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Top 4 Things Parents Need to Know about Measles. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 2015 February 2015. 

 

 

 

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