Measles cases have been appearing with greater frequency in recent years spawning a great deal of media attention, and leaving many parents to wonder if their children are adequately protected from this potentially dangerous disease?
The growing measles problem in the United States and abroad has even prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to post a list (https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/parents-top4.html) of important facts for parents to learn more.
Measles is caused by a special type of Rubeola virus. It is classified as a member of the Paramyxovirus family and is known to cause an acute systemic viral infection.
Measles Can Cause Serious Health Complications In Children
In the past, there was a somewhat common myth that measles caused little more than a rash and a fever that lasted a few days. However, in small children, especially those under the age of 5, measles can lead to very serious health complications.At the same time, there is no accurate way to tell just how serious your child’s reaction and symptoms might be. In some cases, measles can even be life threatening!
Statistically, around one out of every five people in the United States who contract measles will need to be hospitalized. It’s also worth noting that 1 out of every 1,000 people who contract measles will develop dangerous brain swelling. Without timely professional treatment, this could lead to irreversible brain damage.
Even with timely professional treatment, roughly a third of all people who experience brain swelling will die from measles or other related complications.
Common Measles Symptoms
Measles symptoms can include:
- A high fever which might spike quickly to higher than 104° F
- A worsening cough
- Runny nose
- Red, watery eyes, which might develop into conjunctivitis
- A rash that develops within 3 to 5 days after symptoms start
- Breathing problems
Measles Can Be Highly Contagious
The measles virus has been proven to spread easily. The most common method of infection occurs when an already infected person coughs or sneezes. The particulate matter then comes into contact with a vulnerable individual and is allowed to spread.
Statistically, measles is so contagious that 90% of people who are in close proximity to the infected person, and not protected, will contract it. The virus has been tested to remain viable for up to two hours after that person has left the room. This essentially means that your child can potentially contract the measles simply by being in a room where a person with measles has been.It’s also worth noting that an infected person can be contagious up to four days before they ever develop the telltale measles rash!
Measles symptoms tend to manifest around 12 to 14 days after initial contact. This can often make it difficult to determine where the initial infection event originated.
Measles Is Making A Comeback In The United States
Technically, the measles virus was declared “Eliminated” in the United States in the year 2000. This was due in large part to a highly successful vaccination program carried out over the course of years. By definition “Eliminated” means the disease is no longer present in the country.
Yet measles is still a relatively common problem in many other countries and parts of the world. Every year roughly 10-million people globally contract the measles virus. Of those, around 110,000 die as a result of the disease or related complications.
It is possible for you, your child, or other members of your family to contract the measles even if you do not travel internationally. Each year the measles virus is reintroduced to the United States by unvaccinated travelers, a large number of which are Americans, yet some are foreign visitors. These individuals essentially contract measles while they are in another country.
They bring it to the United States, often without knowing it, where the measles virus can potentially spread to unprotected individuals. Anyone who has not been vaccinated against measles is at risk.
Measles Vaccinations Are Highly Effective At Protecting Your Child From The Measles
Fortunately, the measles virus is one that changes very little. This means that once a person is infected or exposed to it once, they develop immunity that lasts for the rest of their life. Ultimately, the best way to protect your child from contracting the measles is to have them vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.
Also known as MMR, the vaccine is administered in small doses at recommended specific ages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the physicians at the Pediatric Group recommend the following MMR vaccination schedule:
- The first dose should be given between 12 to 15 months old.
- The second dose should then be administered between 4 to 6 years old.
If a child plans on travelling internationally, he or she should complete his series as early as able. A baby between 6 to 11 months old, should receive a single dose of MMR vaccine before leaving the United States.
A child over the age of 1 will need 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. Each of these doses should be separated by at least 28 days. Both should be administered before departing the United States.
This plan can be discussed further with your pediatrician.
What To Do If You Suspect A Member Of Your Family Has Contracted The Measles
If you, your child, or another member of your family has recently started to show symptoms of the measles, professional diagnosis is important. Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific treatment for measles. Viral infections of this nature simply don’t react to antibiotics. This typically means that you have to let the virus run its course.
However, there are a few things that might help speed the recovery process or lessen symptoms.
If you are aware of having been exposed to measles, a measles vaccine given within the first 72 hours might help prevent the infection from manifesting fully.A dose of immunoglobulin proteins taken within six days after initial exposure can help strengthen your immune system. The appropriateness of these treatments should be discussed with your pediatrician.
The physicians at The Pediatric Group might also recommend other common sense treatments to help ease symptoms and boost your immune system. This might include things like:
- Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help reduce fever
- Getting sufficient rest
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Running a humidifier or other measures to manage cough and sore throat
- Taking vitamin A supplements
- Taking vitamin C supplements
The present measles outbreak is, for the most part, isolated to certain communities that have elected not to give recommended vaccines for measles and other illnesses. For your children’s safety, we recommend the usual precautions about avoiding contact with sick individuals and that you adhere to the recommended vaccination schedule for measles and other illnesses. We do not, at the present time, recommend additional doses for healthy children unless you are travelling to a measles endemic country outside of the United States. Please feel free to call us if you have specific questions.