Measles: What Every Parent Needs to Know

people_measles5We are living in the midst of a measles epidemic here in California, with more than 59 cases of measles reported in our state alone since the end of 2014 and 42 cases directly linked to an initial exposure at Disneyland and California Adventure. Parents are panicked, and some media outlets have turned this issue into a responsibility to vaccinate versus freedom to choose debate. You still may be asking yourself…what exactly is measles? What are the symptoms? How do I know if my child has it and what do I do if I suspect he or she does? Should I vaccinate my child?

Measles, or rubeola, is a highly contagious airborne disease caused by a virus. Measles symptoms can appear 10-14 days AFTER exposure to the virus, making it difficult to recognize those with the illness. The span of the illness may take up to 2-3 weeks:

1) Infection and incubation– for the first 10-14 days after exposure and infection, the measles virus incubates in the body. Children will have no symptoms at this point but can spread the disease.

2) Signs and symptoms- the illness typically begins with a mild to moderate fever, cough, runny nose, red or inflamed eyes and sore throat. This stage can last 2-3 days.

3) Acute illness and rash- the rash consists of slightly raised, small, red spots, and usually starts in the face, behind the ears, then spreading down the arms, body, legs and feet. At the same time the fever will rise sharply, often as high as 103 to 104 degrees F. The rash will then disappear slowly, first from the face, then from the rest of the body.

4) Transmission period- a person with measles is most contagious starting 4 days before the rash appears and ending when the rash has been present for about 4 days. When someone with measles coughs, sneezes, or even talks, droplets are sprayed into the air and others can be infected by inhaling them.

5) Complications- complications include ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and, although rare, even death.

6) What should I do if I think my child has measles? If your child has been exposed to measles or your child has symptoms consistent with measles, CALL YOU HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FIRST! Do NOT go directly to the ER or Urgent care, or even the pediatrician’s office. It is important you communicate with your health care provider so he or she can make arrangements and take proper isolation precautions in order to minimize potential spread of the illness.

7) How do I protect my child from measles?

Parents of unvaccinated children should consider avoiding places where large numbers of people gather, especially if international visitors are expected. It might also be prudent to avoid travel with unvaccinated children to parts of the world where measles is endemic, like the Philippines, Vietnam and India, or even places where many Americans travel, like France, England and Germany.

With that said, the best way to protect your child from measles is vaccination. If your child is eligible for the measles vaccine (usually given as the MMR, measles-mumps-rubella vaccine), the CDC recommends “all children get two doses of MMR vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Children can receive the second dose earlier as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose.”

On the Issue of Vaccines

The vaccine controversy has spun out of control. Those in support of vaccines see no reason why a child shouldn’t be vaccinated, and those against the vaccine say they have the right to choose what’s best for their children. While I respect a parent’s decision to decide what’s best for their own child, I have a hard time dealing with the issue of those children who are too young to be vaccinated, on chemotherapy for pediatric cancers, or with immune diseases which prevent them from even having the option of vaccination in order to protect themselves. These children spend countless hours isolated from the world, living most of their days in hospitals and doctors offices…don’t they deserve a chance at normal life? They should be able to attend regular school, play in neighborhood parks, and even go to Disneyland! They can only count on us to protect them. Let’s do our part.

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