Recent measles outbreaks all over the globe are raising questions about the measles virus. How serious is a measles infection? What are measles symptoms? What’s the story with measles vaccinations? It leaves one with more questions than answers!
1. What the hell is measles?
First, know that measles is highly contagious. It’s a virus that multiplies in the cells lining the back of the throat and lungs, and causes fever, cough, runny nose, and a characteristic spotty rash all over the body. It can spike fevers to 40 degrees and lead to other illnesses like pneumonia or encephalitis (brain swelling). Roughly 90 percent of people without measles immunity who are physically close to someone with measles will catch it through the air, via droplets from an affected person’s sneeze or cough, or an infected surface (where the virus can live for up to two hours), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
2.Ok, the symptoms sounds nasty, why is it so bad?
Before the vaccine for measles became available in 1963, almost all children fell sick with it before age 15. Although measles was common then, it was also fatal. Today, for every 1,000 people infected with measles, one to two will die from complications (globally, nearly 146,000 children died in 2013). Measles is one of—if not the most—infectious of infectious diseases,
Young children are especially prone to fatal complications. Infection can lead to deafness, blindness, seizures, and developmental delays. If a woman contracts measles while pregnant, she could miscarry or give birth prematurely. This being said- measles is not a trivial childhood disease. I can be exhibit A for what it can do to you- after contracting measles as a 3 year old I was left with very bad eyesight and have been wearing glasses ever since.
3. So as an adult, I can still get measles?
Absolutely. Even if you have been vaccinated against it. The vaccination works most of the time, but it’s still best to stay away from anyone infected—of the 42 California patients infected in 2011 at the Disneyland outbreak, five reported being fully vaccinated. When you have a scenario where hundreds of hundreds of people get exposed, then even if the vaccine is 99 percent good after two doses, you’re going to have a handful of people who are going to get sick.
4. Should I get vaccinated again?
Perhaps. If you feel like it. I can’t tell you what to do.
5. How do I know if my children or I have the measles?
Symptoms first appear as a high temperature, runny nose, and sore eyes. A few days later, small white dots with blue centers—lesions called Koplik spots that are specific to measles—form inside the mouth. Three to five days after symptoms start, an itchy rash begins at the hairline before it erupts over the rest of the body. At this point, fever spikes. After a few days, both the rash and the fever typically lessen. Those infected with measles can spread the disease beginning four days before the rash appears until four days after, according to the Gauteng Department of Health.
6.Oh crap. If I see those measles symptoms, what do I do?
As tempting as it may be, don’t rush straight to the doctor’s office. Call ahead and explain your symptoms. Your doctor may arrange for you to arrive at the office using an alternative entrance so you don’t infect others. After examining you or your child, the doctor might call for a blood test or viral culture.
There is no treatment or cure for measles. The best way to get better is to stay at home, rest, and drink plenty of fluids. A doctor may recommend that an infected child take vitamin A supplements (measles can cause vitamin A deficiencies even in well-nourished children). The vitamins have been shown to reduce mortality and blindness rates. Stay away from other people—meaning no school, day care, work, or any other public places until at least four days after a rash appears. Most patients recover within two weeks.
6. How can I avoid contracting measles?
One way to avoid contracting the disease is to get the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which protects nearly everyone who is given two doses. It’s typically given to children first when they are about between 12 and 15 months, and again between 4 to 6 years of age. If you’re planning to have a baby, and haven’t received the MMR vaccination or aren’t sure if you have, consider getting it first (it’s not recommended during pregnancy). If there’s a chance you’ve been exposed to the measles virus during pregnancy, you’ll be given a concentration of antibodies that can offer short-term but immediate protection via a human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG) injection. Or if you do not want to go that route, try and stay clear of shopping malls, restaurants and very busy public spaces.
Also, boost your child’s immune system naturally by eating healthy 🙂
Chances are you won’t die of measles, but let’s try and stop the spread!