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Posted: Monday, March 25, 2019

What is Measles?

Many of us are vaccinated against measles at a young age. Once you’ve been vaccinated against measles, it’s quite possible you won’t spend much time thinking about it, but it’s important to know what it is, how it can affect you and why medical experts believe we all should be vaccinated against it. In fact, many experts cite lack of vaccinations as the main reason we’ve seen outbreaks of measles cases popping up across the country over the last few years.

Measles, also known as rubeola, is a serious respiratory disease that is highly contagious, spreads quickly and can be deadly. Part of the reason it’s so harmful is that it is spread through coughing and sneezing, and actually can spread for up to two hours after an infected person has left the room. “Measles lives in the nose and throat mucus,” said Mary Kathryn Cockrill from Blount Memorial’s Infection Control team, sharing information from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). “It can be spread through the air or by direct contact, and can be spread before a rash or any symptoms appear. This is because it is spread from person to person through infectious droplets in the air. Those droplets can land on surfaces, where they can remain infectious for hours afterward,” she explained. “If you touch a surface where those infectious droplets are, then touch your eyes, mouth or nose, you can become infected,” she added.

“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,” Cockrill continued. “Severe measles cases can cause convulsions, brain damage and even death in rare cases. People of any age can contract measles, but it is more serious in young children and adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 150 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in the first two months of 2019 alone,” she added.

It’s important to note, though, that while there is no specific treatment for measles, it 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. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles,” Cockrill explained. “Part of the treatment for measles is simply treating the symptoms and letting the body fight it. It’s important to note that because measles is a virus, antibiotics do not help,” she added.

“If you think you’ve been exposed to measles, are experiencing measles symptoms or have been around someone who has measles, it is important to contact your health care provider,” Cockrill continued. “Even if you’ve never been vaccinated, if you receive the MMR vaccine within 72 hours after exposure to an infected person, it still can be effective in preventing infection,” she added.

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