If you think you don’t have to worry about measles anymore, think again. If you haven’t received the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) – or you can’t recall if you received it as a child – you should get vaccinated now. Here’s why…
Europe is experiencing a record-setting outbreak of measles. This is leading to a rise in cases in the U.S. as well – including here in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
Europe is currently experiencing the largest outbreak of measles the continent has ever seen, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Now the disease is on the rise in the U.S., including here in Southern New England. Cases have been confirmed in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. Most recently, there was an outbreak in Rockland County, NY, just west of White Plains. As of October 31, there were 40 confirmed cases of measles, with 11 additional more suspected cases being investigated.
Measles has become relatively rare in the U.S. thanks to vaccination efforts over the last few decades. But the disease is still common in parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific where there are large groups of unvaccinated people. Outbreaks most often occur in the U.S. when people travel to these areas, become infected, and then return home and spread the disease to unvaccinated people here.
What is Measles?
Measles (also called Rubeola) is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. The virus is airborne, meaning it can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air. It can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact or through contact with a contaminated surface.
Measles Symptoms and Complications
The symptoms of measles typically appear 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red and watery eyes, tiny white spots inside the mouth (called Koplik spots) and a rash of flat, red spots. The rash appears three to five days after symptoms begin. It most often begins on the face before spreading to the rest of the body. The fever may spike during this time as well. Both the rash and the fever subside after a few days.
Measles can become serious for anyone, but children younger than five have the highest risk for serious complications and even death. Complications from measles may include ear infection, bronchitis, croup, pneumonia, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
Measles Treatment and Prevention
Unfortunately there is no treatment that can cure an active measles infection. However, if you suspect that you or a family member has measles it’s very important to seek medical care right away. While there is no cure, treatments to control symptoms are available and may help to reduce the severity of the disease. Contact your primary care provider or seek out care at an urgent care center (you can find a PhysicianOne Urgent Care center near you here).
It’s also important to prevent further spread of the disease. Anyone diagnosed with measles should stay at home and away from people who haven’t received the MMR vaccine. The virus is contagious until about four days after the rash appears.
The bottom line is that with measles, the best line of defense is prevention. Anyone born after 1957 who hasn’t been vaccinated should receive at least one dose of the vaccine, but preferably two. Infants should receive the first dose of the MMR vaccine between 12 and 15 months. The second doese should be given between the ages of four and six.