As the number of measles cases hits a record high this year, surpassing previous annual totals this century, parents are raising concerns. The disease, which was once eliminated in the United States, has resurfaced and spread across 23 states with an estimated 764 cases in May 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What is the measles?
A highly contagious airborne virus, the measles is transmitted by direct contact and infectious droplets. The virus can live on surfaces for up to two hours and can be spread days before visible symptoms are present or after recovery. Initial symptoms include fever, runny nose, watery eyes, followed by a rash starting from the head and spreading to the rest of the body. In some cases, measles can cause severe health complications including pneumonia and encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain.
Signs and Symptoms of Measles
There is no way to tell how severe the symptoms will be for someone with the measles. According to the CDC, 1 in every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, which is the most common cause of death in young children with measles. The susceptible rate of exposure is 90%, or 1 in 9 people, for those who do not have immunity. Infants and young children are the most vulnerable group affected by this disease and are at the highest risk of hospitalization and death due to measles.
“There can be severe complications associated with the measles including acute encephalitis, which occurs in 1 out of 1,000 cases and is a result of the brain becoming infected during the rash phase leading to permanent brain damage. These are still pretty high odds, which can be managed simply by vaccinating your children,” said Joseph Baust Jr., MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at TPMG James River Pediatrics in Newport News.
The Measles Vaccine
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is urging families to vaccinate their children against the measles. The recommended age for immunization is one dose at 12-15 months and a second dose at 4-6 years. The MMR vaccine protects against three diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella.
If you are concerned you no longer have immunity or record of an initial vaccination as a child, a booster is available for adults. Contact your primary care provider for further information.
“A third dose of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine isn’t going to harm you,” said Baust. “Probably the largest factor we’re fighting is misinformation. The MMR vaccine is very safe and is 97% effective at preventing measles when given in two doses.”
Your pediatrician is your best source of advice on vaccinations and can provide further guidance on vaccine recommendations for children and adults. Contact your pediatrician or primary care physician if you have questions about the measles virus or the MMR vaccine.
About Dr. Joseph Baust
Joseph A. Baust Jr., MD, FAAP, is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Baust practices at TPMG James River Pediatrics in Newport News with Dr. Carol Steiner and Lee Gotthardt, FNP-C, where they offer complete medical service to infants, children and young adults to the age of 21 years. To schedule an appointment at TPMG James River Pediatrics or for further information, call (757) 595-3570.