So, by now, you have probably heard about the measles outbreak in the United States.
In case you don’t know the details, this started in December at the Disneyland Resort Theme Park in Anaheim, CA. It is thought that a person visited the park during their infectious stage of the disease. In January, there have been 102 cases of measles reported to the Centers for Disease Control, across 14 states, and the majority of cases are linked
to this one outbreak! Cases have been reported in two states bordering Ohio (Michigan and Pennsylvania). This is more cases than have been reported in some recent years in the United States.
What is measles?
Measles is caused by a virus. Measles is spread by direct contact with the droplets from an infectious person or sometimes by breathing them in. You usually get symptoms of the disease between 8 – 12 days after exposure. The symptoms of measles usually start with
fever, cough, and symptoms similar to the common cold. Then the patient will get a skin rash (that usually starts on the face). Your child may get lesions in his/her mouth about 3 days into the illness. (For pictures of the rash and mouth lesions, see link at end of blog). Other illnesses that may occur as part of the measles include ear infections, croup, pneumonia and diarrhea (especially in younger children). In addition, there is the possibility of having effects in the brain called encephalopathy which can lead to brain damage as well as breathing problems. Another rare complication of measles is a condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. This serious condition occurs a number of years after the measles infection and can lead to seizures, worsening of brain functioning (such as behavior and intellect).
Why are we seeing measles in the U.S.?
A number of years ago, the U.S.A. was declared measles free. Unfortunately, there are still many parts of the world that have measles. So, measles does come back to the U.S. by travelers into the U.S. (either Americans or foreign visitors).
The Good News?
The measles is preventable! After the first dose of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) there is a 95 percent protection rate and the second dose of the vaccine was added to increase the protection rate.
In the original outbreak in California, of the original 59 cases the California Department of Health was able to verify vaccination status in 34 of the cases (aged between 7 months – 70 years). 28 of the 34 were unvaccinated!
So, what can you do for measles? If you get measles, there is no treatment other than what we call “supportive care”. So, if you have breathing problems we will give oxygen or maybe you will need a breathing tube to help you breathe, etc. But there is no medicine we can give to cure it. So, the best treatment is prevention.
Luckily, there is a vaccine. As I pointed out above, the vaccine works well!
So, why should it matter if I don’t vaccinate my child?
- Measles is out there, so if you don’t vaccinate, you are making the choice to risk your child’s health.
- There are children with immune conditions and cancers such as leukemia who can’t be vaccinated, you are putting those children at risk.
- Infants cannot be vaccinated until they are one year of age, this is a high risk population. These children are placed at risk when around children and people who are unvaccinated.
About the measles vaccine
It either comes in a combination, MMR, that also includes protection against mumps and rubella or MMRV which adds the chickenpox vaccine. The usual vaccination schedule is to get the first dose after the child turns one year (between 12-15 months) and the second
dose is given prior to school entry between the age of 4-6 years.
Common side effects of the vaccine include fever, rash that comes and goes. There are more rare side effects, if you would like information, please read the links provided or talk to your child’s doctor.
So, from the perspective of a pediatrician and a mom, there are always risks. The risk of the disease versus the risk of the side effects. Unfortunately, since vaccines have made diseases like measles uncommon, we have forgotten that these vaccine preventable diseases could be serious and sometimes led to death! As a parent, I vaccinate my children. As a pediatrician, I recommend that my patients are fully vaccinated both for the safety of that patient and family and for the safety of the other children in my practice.
For more information about the epidemic:
For more information about measles:
For more information about the measles vaccine:
Pictures of measles: