We’ve heard a lot about measles lately, thanks to an outbreak of measles cases in California. While many of us are vaccinated against measles at a young age, some are not, a fact that some experts in the medical community believe could be to blame for the recent outbreak. Still, because so many of us do get vaccinated, it’s fair to say that we may not have a lot of knowledge about the disease. Once we are deemed immune to measles, it very likely becomes something that we simply don’t think about. But, measles is a serious respiratory disease that spreads quickly and can be deadly.
Blount Memorial Hospital’s senior infection control coordinator Ann Henry says one reason measles is so harmful is because it can easily be spread through coughing and sneezing. “Measles is a very contagious virus,” she explained. “It can be spread even if the person who has it is no longer in the room, and can be spread before a rash or any other symptoms appear. This is because it is an airborne virus spread from person to person through infectious droplets in the air. Symptoms of measles can include fever; runny nose; cough; feeling run down or achy; red, watery eyes; tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth; and a rash that can run from your hairline to your face and neck,” she explained. “Severe measles cases can cause convulsions, brain damage and death,” she added.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 38 percent of children under age 5 who had measles in 2011 in the United States had to be hospitalized,” Henry said. “One to three children out of 1,000 in the United States who get measles will die from it. However, measles is very preventable through vaccinations. The vaccine is a shot that combines vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella, and is known as the MMR. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are recommended for children beginning around 12 months of age. The second dose typically is given before the child enters kindergarten, usually when the child is between 4 and 6 years old. Nearly all children who receive the vaccine’s recommended two doses will be protected from ever getting measles,” Henry explained.
As for immunizations in general, Henry says it’s a way to protect future generations. “In many cases, vaccines have reduced or even eliminated diseases that have killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago,” she said. “If we continue vaccinating now, and vaccinating thoroughly, parents in the future may be able to take comfort in the knowledge that some diseases will no longer be threats to their children,” she added.