measlesWe have all heard the recent buzz on measles in the news.  But what is the measles and should I be paying attention to this buzz?

Measles used to be a disease that nearly all children got by their 15 birthday.  Before a vaccine became available in 1963, it is estimated 3-4 million people in the United States were infected each year in the 1950s with approximately 400 to 500 of these people dying from the disease. With a vaccine these numbers have decreased and in the year 2000 measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. However, even with this declaration, measles cases in our country are still making the news.

The symptoms for measles, including fever, cough, rash, runny nose and red, watery eyes may even seem pretty common with other illnesses, but measles should not be taken lightly.

The Center for Disease Control has listed four important facts that parents today should know about measles.

Measles can be serious

Complications can result from measles, especially in children younger than 5 years of age.

  • Even in the United States, 1 in 4 people who get measles will be hospitalized
  • 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage
  • 1 or 2 out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care

 Measles is very contagious

  • Spreading through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, measles will infect 9 out of 10 people around an infected person if they are not themselves protected.
  • Measles sticks around too. A child can be infected with measles two hours after someone with measles has left a room.
  • Plus, someone who is infected may infect others four days before and after developing the measles rash.

Children can still get measles in the United States

Measles may have been declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but that only means that it is no longer constantly present in this country. As the recent buzz on the news has been getting louder, more outbreaks of measles (3 or more cases) have been reported. Currently, these outbreaks are in New York (Rockland County and New York City), Michigan, New Jersey, California (Butte, LA and Sacramento Counties), Georgia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. We do not have an outbreak in Kentucky but there was a case of measles here last year. Measles is also common in many parts of the world. Thus, anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk.

Parents have the power to protect their children against measles with the safe measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

A child needs two doses for the MMR vaccine for best protection.

  • The first dose at 12-15 months of age
  • The second dose at 4-6 years of age.

If you or your child has been exposed to someone with measles, call your medical provider immediately to help verify your vaccination record and immunity to measles. Your provider may also determine if you need special evaluation arrangements made, especially since the symptoms of measles may appear seven to 14 days after a person is infected and even without the symptoms, someone with measles can infect others.  Likewise, if you suspect you or your child has measles, call your doctor immediately so they can advise you on what to do next.


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Article by:

Heather Felton, M.D.

Dr. Heather Felton is medical director of UofL Pediatrics – Sam Swope Kosair Charities Centre. She is also an assistant professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky and her medical degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She is a member of the American Medical Association, Kentucky Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and Group of Women in Medicine and Science. Her specialty is pediatrics. Dr. Felton’s areas of interest include safety and injury prevention; improving anticipated guidance provided to families during check-ups; and advocating for children’s safety.

All posts by Heather Felton, M.D.
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