Virus: Measles Virus, a paramyxovirus
Vaccine: MMR or MMRV
It is extremely contagious, is spread through the air by a cough or sneeze, and can live on the surface of objects for up to two hours. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who have not been vaccinated will also become infected with the measles virus.2
Measles, or rubeola, is a virus that attacks the throat and lungs and causes respiratory disease. If your child should come down with the measles, about 1-2 weeks after infection with the virus you would notice a mild to moderate fever, cough, runny nose, red/watery eyes, and sore throat. A few days after those symptoms set in, you would notice tiny white spots with bluish-white centers in the inside of your child’s mouth (called Koplik’s spots). In another day or so, your child would begin to get a red or reddish-brown rash beginning at the hairline on the face, and spreading downward to the neck, tummy and back, arms, legs, and finally, feet. With the appearance of the rash, your child may spike a fever of 104*F or above. The fever and rash may last a few more days before fading away.
Who is at Risk:
The incidence of measles in the US is very low due to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Today there are only about 60 cases reported each year in the US, most of which are due to traveling outside of the country.2 People traveling to unvaccinated areas are at high risk for contracting the measles. Should you plan on traveling outside of the US, vaccinating your child against the measles is especially important. Worldwide, there are estimated to be 20 million cases of the measles and 164,000 deaths from the virus each year, more than half of the deaths occurring in India.
Of course, those who are immunocompromised due to illness and are unable to get vaccinated are at risk for contracting the measles, as are small children.
One out of ten children who come down with the measles get ear infections from the virus, and one out of twenty end up with pneumonia.2 About one out of 1,000 children get encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain), which can lead to brain damage and/or seizures, and one or two out of 1,000 actually die from the measles.2
Pregnancy/Unborn Child/Newborn Risk:
If you should contract the measles while pregnant, the virus can cause a miscarriage or cause you to give birth prematurely. However, mothers that have immunity to measles (have been vaccinated) pass protective antibodies to their children that can last from birth up to a year.
The MMR or MMRV vaccine prevents getting the measles. Before 1963, when the measles vaccine was introduced, nearly all children had contracted the measles by they time they were 15 years old.5 In the US, this caused about 450-500 deaths, 48,000 hospitalizations, 7,000 seizures, and left about 1,000 children with permanent brain damage or deafness.2
There is no treatment for the measles except rest and over the counter pain relievers. It’s important to talk to a doctor if your child should contract the measles.
The majority of those who contract the measles survive. The risk of death or pneumonia is higher in those who are immunocompromised due to cancer, HIV, or steroid use.
- Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. www.nlm.nih.gov
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). www.cdc.gov
- National Institutes of Health. www.nih.gov
- Kids Health. Nemours. www.kidshealth.org
- The history of Vaccines. www.historyofvaccines.org
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. www.ninds.nih.gov
Photo courtesy of the CDC. www.cdc.gov