Nine Facts Every Parent Should Know About Measles


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Photo courtesy of Teseum via Flickr

Nine facts every parent should know about measles: Although measles (also known as rubeola) is easily preventable, the measles virus is still one of the most infectious diseases known to humanity, even more infectious than Ebola or SARS. If a person infected with measles coughs in a room, an unvaccinated person can contract the virus even hours later just from the droplets left behind in the air. No other virus has this ability to spread.

1. The current big-scale outbreak started in December in Disneyland theme park in Orange County, California, and has since spread to thirteen other U.S. states and Mexico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who linked 67 of the confirmed cases back to an initial exposure at the Disney park. Since January 1, 2015, a total of 84 people have been diagnosed; 15 percent of them have been hospitalized, but none have died. As Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General, explained the current situation:  “America has had more measles cases in January than it usually faces in an entire year.”

2. As health officials believe, the Disney outbreak spread so quickly, because “patient zero” was surrounded by people who weren’t vaccinated, and that helped the virus spread around California and beyond. More than 80 percent of those who got measles in this outbreak were not vaccinated against the disease.

3. Measles is an infectious disease that can be deadly, and typically strikes children. After an incubation period of ten to 12 days, measles comes on as a fever, cough, stuffy nose, and bloodshot and watery eyes. Loss of appetite and malaise are common, too. Several days after these initial symptoms, an uncomfortable spotty, rash begins to spread all over the body, starting on the face and neck, and moving downward.

4. The measles rash usually lasts for three to five days and then fades away-see picture above.

5. Measles can be prevented with a vaccine. Currently available vaccine in the U.S. is the combination MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) shot. The CDC recommends that children get two doses-the first between 12 to 15 months of age, and the second between 4 through 6 years of age.Immunity from the vaccine lasts for decades, but you should ask your health provider about booster shots if you’re an adult.

6. If in person is not vaccinated, it’s extremely easy to contract the measles virus. In an unimmunized population, one person infected with measles can infect 12 to 18 others, which makes the virus  more contagious and scary than viruses like Ebola, HIV or Sars. (for example, Ebola: one case usually leads to two others;  HIV and Sars: one case leads to another four.)
7. There is no available treatment for measles. Doctors can help patients avoid the more severe complications such as blindness or pneumonia by assuring the patients have good nutrition and enough fluids. For eye and ear infections that can arise, doctors can prescribe antibiotics. And because measles depletes its victims’ vitamin A levels, doctors usually give patients two doses of vitamin A supplements.
8.  Measles vaccination of children is rather high in the U.S. According to to the CDC’s latest data in 2013, about 92 percent of young children across the country received the MMR vaccine.
9. The measles virus could theoretically be eradicated from Earth, since only people, and not animals, are its carriers, and we have readily available and accurate diagnostic tests to identify the disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2013 about 84 percent of all the children worldwide received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday, which is an increase from 73 percent in 2000. However, that’s not enough for total elimination. While most (about 95 percent) of today’s outbreaks occur in developing countries, measles can take off anywhere as long as there are enough people who did not get the vaccine; and in the US, the disease is experiencing an uptick. The scientific community widely supports vaccines, seeing them as one of the most crucial medical breakthroughs of the past few centuries.
For more information about PROs and CONs of vaccinations-see our article A Parents’ Guide to Children’s Vaccinations.
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