A note from the pediatrician: Don't make a rash decision

With news of outbreaks, measles has become a hot topic as this interesting and deadly virus continues to spread throughout the United States.

Measles is a virus that humans contract from other humans. It lives in the nose and throat and is spread by coughing and sneezing. The symptoms of measles can begin seven to fourteen days after exposure.

Symptoms of measles include:

  • high fever (up to 105 degrees)
  • cough
  • congestion
  • red and watery eyes
  • rash - usually flat red spots that start on the face and spread
  • Koplik spots - white spots in the mouth

Common complications from measles can include ear infections and diarrhea. There are, however, severe consequences as well. For every 1,000 children with measles, one or two will die from it.
Pregnant women who contract the disease can give birth prematurely or have a baby with a low birth weight. Even after recovery, the virus may impact a person’s immune system for months, making that person more susceptible to other infections.

The measles virus is extremely contagious. It can live in the air of a room that an infected person was in for up to two hours after that individual leaves. Nine out of ten people who are not immune to the virus will become infected if exposed to measles.

Measles can be traced back thousands of years. It was first described in the 900s by a physician in the Middle East. Over the centuries, people have been infected by measles and have suffered the consequences. One particularly bad outbreak took place on the Hawaiian Islands in the mid-1800s. It’s thought to have killed one third of the entire population of Hawaii.

As science improved, so did the understanding of measles. Physicians and scientists figured out how it was transmitted, and by the 1950s started working on a vaccine. The first vaccine was released in 1963 in the United States. As more people got the measles vaccine, less people became infected. By the year 2000, measles was declared to be eliminated from the US population due to widespread vaccination.

But here we are in 2019, with measles outbreaks in the United States again. Recently, multiple states including Washington, New York, Illinois, California, Michigan and Texas have all reported measles cases. Almost all of these cases occurred in people who are not vaccinated against measles.

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from measles is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe and effective. Combined with vaccines for mumps and rubella, the MMR vaccine is 97 percent effective at preventing measles. Children receive the first dose of the MMR vaccine at 12 months of age and the second around four or five years of age. Adults who have not received their vaccine should get it as well.

Those who should not be vaccinated include infants, women who are pregnant, people with a weakened immune system, or individuals who have had a reaction to the vaccine in the past.

For more information on measles and the vaccine, I would recommend going online to www.cdc.gov or talking to your healthcare provider.

Now that you know more about this deadly virus, make sure that you and your loved ones are protected!