Until recently many of us hadn’t heard about measles and didn’t really think too much about it (I haven’t really since my Board Exams 8 years ago). So what is measles? Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through contact with an infected person’s respiratory secretions. In fact the virus can live up to 2 hours in the air where an infected person coughed or sneezed! The symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and pink eyes followed 3-5 days later by a rash that starts on the head and travels down the body. Measles can be a very severe illness with 25% of infected individuals requiring hospitalization, 1/1000 infected individuals developing brain swelling, and about the same number dying from the infection.
One of the reasons we haven’t heard much about measles until recently is because in the year 2000 it was declared eradicated in the United States. There was still measles in other countries and every year travelers would bring some measles cases to the US. As of May 3, 2019, however, there have been 764 cases of measles reported in the United States this year, which is the greatest number of cases reported since 1994. There are cases reported in 23 states, thankfully Virginia is not yet one, and there are outbreaks (defined as 3 or more cases) currently ongoing in 9 jurisdictions. These outbreaks are occurring due to travelers bringing the disease back from other countries and infecting unvaccinated individuals. People may be unvaccinated due to young age, an immune compromised state, or due to personal preference.
There has been a decrease in measles vaccine coverage since a now-discredited paper linking the vaccine to autism was published in 1998. This is unfortunate because not only is the vaccine very safe and extremely effective, it is the ONLY protection against measles that exists. At Pediatric Associates we typically give the vaccine at the 12 month visit with a booster at 4 years old. The vaccine can be given as young as 6 months and is recommended by the CDC for infants who are traveling internationally. For children traveling to areas with measles outbreaks, such as Israel, the Philippines, Ukraine, Japan, and Brazil, a second dose of the MMR vaccine is recommended prior to travel. If you are traveling and have questions about measles vaccination, please call our office at 434-296-9161.
Alaina M. Brown, MD FAAP