At one time, measles was quite common and led to thousands of childhood deaths per year in the U.S. As a result of successful vaccination programs, measles is quite rare in the United States, usually averaging less than 100 cases per year.
Fortunately, the number of worldwide cases of measles is declining due to vaccination programs, but measles is still a serious health concern causing the deaths of over 100,000 children annually. Recently there have been several outbreaks in the U.S. in regions where the vaccination rate has been low, triggered by people who have returned from visits outside the country where they were exposed to measles.
The signs and symptoms of measles usually appear about 10 days after exposure. These include high fever, runny nose, dry cough, irritated red eyes, eye sensitivity to light, sore throat, a red, blotchy and bumpy skin rash, and blue-white spots inside the cheeks. The blue-white spots inside of the mouth on cheeks are called Koplik’s spots and are very helpful in diagnosing measles.
The measles virus grows in the throat and nose of an infected person, and when they sneeze the virus is released into the air and can infect others. Surfaces contaminated with the virus can remain contagious for several hours. If you touch a contaminated surface and rub your eyes, nose or mouth, you can become infected.
People with the measles are infectious about four days before the rash begins and are infectious for about four days after the rash begins — a total of about eight days. Patients with measles may also experience complications including laryngitis, bronchitis, loud cough, pneumonia, and encephalitis (brain infection).
Also, pregnant women need to take very special care in avoiding the measles. Measles can cause pre-term labor and even pregnancy loss.
The diagnosis of measles is based on the disease’s recognizable rash as well as those small, bluish-white spots inside the cheeks. If necessary, a blood test can confirm the diagnosis of measles.
No treatment can eradicate a measles infection. However, some steps can be taken to protect vulnerable people who have been exposed to the measles virus. This includes immediate vaccination or giving the exposed person (especially pregnant women) an injection of protective antibodies. In such cases, the sooner the treatment is given, the better. Your doctor will help determine what are the best steps to take if a vulnerable person is exposed to the measles virus.
Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. Medications can be used to reduce fever and address any secondary bacterial infection. Patients should get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, use a humidifier for breathing comfort, and reduce light intensity if the patient is experiencing photophobia (extreme and painful sensitivity to light exposure). Aspirin should be avoided in teens to prevent a serious disorder called Reye’s syndrome.
Infected persons should be isolated to prevent exposing others. Infected persons should be isolated for four to five days after developing symptoms.
If you are a vulnerable person who is exposed, an immediate vaccination may not entirely prevent the measles but will make the condition, if contracted, milder. An infusion of protective antibodies in pregnant patients may be indicated.
Children should follow the pediatric vaccination schedule of two vaccinations of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine at approximately ages one and five. Adults who did not receive the two doses can also be vaccinated. Talk to your doctor for specifics.
A fraudulent report was published linking vaccination to autism. The report has been fully discredited. Unfortunately, it still influences some to not vaccinate their children. This has led to thousands of unnecessary deaths in children.
The most important thing you can do is to make sure your children receive the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine on a schedule recommended by their pediatrician.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.