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Measles

Measles is a serious, potentially life-threatening illness that is extremely contagious; 9 out 10 susceptible people exposed will get measles.       

  • Starts with symptoms that look like the cold or flu:  high fever; runny nose; red, watery eyes and cough.   [NOTE:  cough may be a later symptom.] 
  • Two to three days later, white spots may appear in the mouth, especially inside the cheeks. 
  • Three to five days after symptoms start, a red, spotty rash appears.  The rash usually starts on the face near the hairline and works its way down the body and covers the body.

The virus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or shares food or drinks.  It also is airborne.

  • This means that measles can be spread by sitting near someone who has the virus.  Measles virus can remain in the air and on surfaces for up to 2 hours after an infected person leaves the room.
  • People are contagious four days before the rash appears until four days after it shows up.  You can catch measles from an infected person even before the person has any symptoms.  This is one reason why it is important to make sure your vaccinations are up to date.

Children younger than 5 and adults over 20 tend to be the most vulnerable to complications, including ear infections, diarrhea, lung infections, brain swelling and in rare cases, death.

  • Three in 10 people will develop complications (CDC).
  • Measles killed 10 times as many people last year as Ebola did.
  • About 400 people across the globe die every day from measles (WHO).  It is the leading cause of childhood blindness in the world.

Measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, but has made a comeback staring in 2014.

  • More than 100 cases of measles have been reported in the United States in 14 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington) (CDC).
  • Forty two of the 102 cases in January 2015 were traced back to an infected person who visited Disneyland and infected other people at the amusement park.
  • Last year, there were 644 cases of measles in the United States, the most since 1994.

The best protection against measles is vaccination. 

  • Emergency physicians strongly recommend vaccination ASAP for anyone who is not immunized. If you are in doubt, get the shot!
  • If you and your child are vaccinated, your chances of getting measles are low.
  • Children less than a year old typically are not vaccinated, because their immune systems are not ready, which makes them extra vulnerable to getting measles if they are exposed to it.

All 50 states require vaccination for some or all of the following diseases before children can enter school: mumps, measles rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio.

  • The rules for vaccination vary across states.
  • Two doses of vaccine, most commonly given as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) combination, is 97% effective at preventing measles, (CDC). And that protection lasts a lifetime.

When people don't vaccinate their children, they increase the risk for people in the population who can't be vaccinated, such as infants under age 1, and people with weak immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

  • Call your doctor or public health department if you think you or your child may have been exposed to measles or if you or your child has a rash resembling measles.
  • Please indicate to emergency personnel immediately if you suspect you have measles so you can be isolated from other patients.
  • Review your family's immunization records with your doctor, especially before starting elementary school, before college and before international travel.

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