What parents need to know about measles, according to experts

Outbreak of measles on the arms and legs of a child.

Experts say measles is highly contagious and can be dangerous. (Getty Images)

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that 22.3 million infants globally They missed their first dose of the measles vaccine In 2020, contributing to the largest annual increase in more than 20 years of unvaccinated children in the U.S. The concern, the researchers said at the time, was that it could lead to future outbreaks of measles and other preventable diseases.

Now, there’s a measles outbreak in central Ohio — and most of the children affected are unvaccinated. According to the official Columbus City According to the website, there have been 85 cases of measles since the outbreak began in November 2022, and 34 people have been hospitalized with the virus. Of those infected, 78 were unvaccinated, six had only one dose of the disease-preventing measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and one had an unknown vaccination status.

All cases were children 17 years of age or younger, and the vast majority of patients were 2 years of age or younger.

Columbus Health Commissioner Michika Roberts he said in an interview last month The outbreak started with a small group of people who had returned from an area where measles occurs regularly. The virus spreads rapidly among unvaccinated young children. “The reason so many of our children are affected by the measles outbreak is because the vast majority of our population has not been vaccinated,” she said.

These aren’t the only measles cases in the United States over the past year: Data from CDC It shows that there were 118 measles cases in 2022, up from 49 in 2021. (Data for 2023 is not yet online.)

It’s understandable to have questions about measles afterward. Here’s what you need to know.

What is measles?

Measles, which is caused by a virus, is an acute viral respiratory illness that leads to a host of uncomfortable symptoms, including a visible rash, high fever and cough. per CDC. But it is not your normal illness. “Measles is a serious disease with the potential to cause pneumonia and encephalitis and can occur Erase aspects of the immune system“,” Doctor. Amish Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Yahoo Life. More specifically, a measles infection can damage a person’s immune system Eliminate up to 73% of pre-existing antibodies for other diseases, Including the flu.

The virus is also “extraordinarily contagious — even more contagious than COVID,” Dr. Thomas Russochair of the division of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Yahoo Live.

Dr.. Daniel FisherMeasles, chief of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Yahoo Life that measles is so contagious, the virus can still make someone sick. up to two hours After the person with measles has left the room. “This is highly contagious, highly contagious,” she says.

How is measles transmitted?

Measles spreads in a “COVID-like” way, Russo says. It is transmitted through direct contact with infectious droplets or respiratory particles that enter the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes, according to the CDC. Again, the virus can remain in the air for up to two hours after someone with measles has left the area.

People can also catch measles from touching an infected surface and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth says the CDC.

The CDC notes that measles is so contagious that if a person has it, up to 90% of people around that person who aren’t immunized against the virus will also become infected.

The signs of measles that should be showing up on your radar

Measles symptoms usually appear seven to 14 days after someone is infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionSymptoms tend to appear in stages.

In the first stage, the child usually has the following symptoms:

  • High temperature.

  • Cough.

  • Runny nose.

  • Watery red eyes.

“Usually you’ll have these cold-like symptoms first,” says Fisher. From there, the patient may experience small white spots (called Koplik spots) inside the mouth, according to the CDC. Three to five days after the onset of symptoms, the rash usually appears, beginning as flat red spots that appear on the face and spread to the rest of the body. Measles can also cause serious complications such as pneumonia and brain swelling, according to the CDC. “It’s not a very pleasant disease,” Russo says.

How to prevent measles

Measles is prevented with the MMR vaccine, in two doses. the The CDC recommends Children get the first dose of the vaccine when they are 12 to 15 months old and the second dose when they are 4 to 6 years old. One dose of the vaccine is 93% effective in preventing measles, while both doses are 97% effective, says the CDC.

It is important to note that the majority of children affected by the Ohio outbreak were younger than 2 years old and therefore ineligible for full measles vaccination. However, those over 12 months old – the largest affected group – were eligible to receive the first vaccine in the series. However, only six of the 85 people affected by the outbreak received a single shot.

Herd immunity—when enough of the population is immune to a disease so that even people who aren’t vaccinated get some protection because the disease has little chance of spreading in a community—is important for protecting those who haven’t been vaccinated. Those who have not yet been vaccinated, and those who are not fully vaccinated and who are immunocompromised and will not have a perfect response to the vaccine, says Russo.

“The only way to protect is a vaccine,” says Fisher. “I can’t believe we’re here again. This is directly related to the drop in immunization.”

How is measles treated?

There is no specific treatment for measles. Instead, children can be given acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches, pains, or fever, and encouraged to drink plenty of fluids, Russo says.

“We don’t have much in the way of treatment,” he says. “The key to measles is prevention.”

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