The recent measles outbreaks have many parents concerned.
Most of the people who have gotten sick were not vaccinated against measles. This is a stark reminder of the importance of making sure your children are fully vaccinated.
The following are answers to questions many parents
about measles outbreaks.
I thought measles was a
mild illness, why the alarm now?
Measles was once a common childhood disease and almost an
expected part of growing up. While most children recovered from the measles without problems, many others did not. In some children, the infection caused pneumonia and in a few,
encephalitis (infection of the brain) and even death. Of every 1,000 people who got measles, 1 to 2 would die. Before
vaccine was available, every year an average of 450 people died from measles; most of them were healthy children.
Thanks to the success of the measles vaccine, we are now
able to protect children from the measles. However, in recent years some parents have refused or delayed vaccinating their children out of fear or misinformation about the safety
of the measles vaccine. This means there are more unvaccinated children, adolescents, and adults in our communities.
Choosing to not vaccinate your children not only leaves them
susceptible to measles, but also exposes other children to measles. This includes infants who are too young to be vaccinated and those who are unable to be vaccinated due to other health conditions.
In addition, measles is still common and large outbreaks still occur in many other parts of the world. Thus, measles is just a
plane ride away, or even closer.
How is measles
The measles virus spreads easily through the air when an
infected person sneezes or coughs and someone nearby inhales the infected droplets. It can also be transmitted by direct contact with fluids from the nose or mouth of an infected person. It is one of
the most infectious agents known to man.
Most of the recent outbreaks in the US have started with an
unvaccinated person from the US traveling to another country with measles outbreaks and bringing it back to the US. Measles is very contagious and the virus can live for up to two hours on surfaces
infected patients have touched or in the air where they may have coughed or sneezed. As a result, anyone in an airport or crowded venue has a chance of coming into contact with measles.
Is the measles vaccine
Yes, very. A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of
causing side effects but usually these are mild, such as pain or swelling at the injection site and a fever that lasts a day or two. The risk of the measles vaccine causing serious harm is extremely
small. Getting the measles vaccine is much safer than getting the measles infection.
What are the symptoms of
The most recognizable symptom of measles is a very high fever accompanied by a red or brownish blotchy rash, although this is not the only
Before the rash appears,
children with measles develop cold-like symptoms, including:
- Runny nose
- Red, watery eyes
These symptoms tend to get worse during the first 1 to 3
days of the illness.
When do children need to
get the measles vaccine?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend children receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at age 12-15 months, and again at 4-6 years. Children can receive
the second dose earlier as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose.
There is a combination vaccine called MMRV that contains both chickenpox and
MMR vaccines. MMRV is an option for some children 12 months through 12 years of age.
rates in a community protects those who are too young to be vaccinated, including infants under 12 months of age. These infants are at the highest risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death
due to measles. See Protecting Your Baby from a Measles
Outbreak for more information and answers to frequently asked questions from
How long does the measles
vaccine provide protection?
The measles vaccine is very effective in protecting against
measles. However, no vaccine is 100% protective so very rarely, people who are vaccinated may develop measles. Some people may also be at risk for getting the measles if they only received 1 dose of
the measles vaccine, which was the recommendation until 1989 when it changed to 2 doses. The second dose of measles vaccine increases protection to greater than 95%.
I'm not sure if I've
received measles vaccine. Do I need a booster?
If you are not sure if you or your children have been fully
vaccinated against measles, talk with your doctor to see if anyone in your family needs to be vaccinated. There is no risk to receiving measles vaccine if you have been immunized
before. Measles is a live vaccine so children with immune problems or receiving medications that suppress the immune system should not receive the measles vaccine. Your pediatrician is your best
source of advice on vaccinations.