Recently, various medical publications have been discussing the fact that outbreaks of measles are occurring in some states in the U.S. and in other countries, especially, presently, in France. Measles–for parents and caregivers who may never have seen or have had the disease–is an infectious disease, communicable through respiratory droplets (sneezing, coughing, spitting, etc.) or by touching a person who is infected with measles (or an object a person infected with measles may have touched).
Measles is not solely a childhood disease–adults get measles too! What does measles look like? For people who have never seen the measles, it’s not pretty! Measles is accompanied by a red rash that may first appear on the face and/or tummy and may spread all over the body. The rash may itch and bring with it a high fever. Here’s what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says about measles http://pediatrics.about.com/od/measles/a/avoiding-measles.htm :
“Measles is an acute, highly communicable viral disease with prodromal fever [in this case, a fever that appears before the rash appears], conjunctivitis [inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye], coryza [inflamed mucous membrane of the nose], cough, and Koplik spots on the buccal mucosa [small white spots in lining of the mouth characteristic of early measles]. A characteristic red blotchy rash appears around the third day of illness, beginning on the face and becoming generalized. Measles can be accompanied by a middle ear infection or diarrhea.” Measles can be severe, and occur with bronchopneumonia or brain inflammation (encephalitis) leading to coma and death in approximately 2 of every 1,000 cases or in 0.2 percent of the population.
But there is some good news and that is Measles is preventable. It can be prevented by vaccinating children with the Measles/Mumps/Rubella disease vaccine, known as MMR. Children are usually vaccinated with the MMR vaccine when they are 12 to 15 months old (first dose) and again at 4 to 6 years old (booster dose). Prior to 1989, booster doses of MMR were not given, so there are individuals in the population who may be at least 20 years old and who have never received a booster dose of MMR.
Who can be considered at risk for measles?
- infants before they get their first MMR vaccination;
- toddlers and preschoolers who are only partially immune following their first MMR vaccination and until they receive a booster MMR shot;
- immuno-compromised children, even if they previously received the MMR vaccine, including children receiving cancer chemotherapy; and
- people who are incompletely vaccinated (never received the booster dose), or have never been vaccinated with MMR, or who have never been exposed to the disease and who have never had the disease.
Some measles cases–up to 20%– require hospitalization. In many cases, parents take children to a doctor or the Emergency Room (ER) due to the high fever–this also may expose other people and children to the disease. The best thing to do is to call your doctor or hospital first and ask advice if you suspect your child has the measles. Here are a few tips to help reduce your family’s risk:
- Check your child’s vaccination record to make sure they received their first and second doses of MMR;
- Check your own vaccination records to make sure you have received the MMR booster (as people born before 1990 may not have received it);
If you and your family are planning any international travel, make sure your vaccinations of MMR are in order before you travel!