What you need to know about the measles outbreak

April 25, 2019 | by Kimberly McKinnon, D.O.
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

In 2000, thanks to an effective vaccination program, U.S. officials declared measles had been eliminated as a health threat.

In 2019, however, measles has made quite a comeback.

In fact, the number of U.S. cases reported in 2019 is the highest since the elimination announcement.

It’s getting scary. While most of the measles cases are in people who have not been vaccinated, those who have been vaccinated may be questioning whether they should take any additional precautions.

How contagious is measles?

If an unvaccinated person breathes air up to two hours after it has been infected by someone with measles who was coughing or sneezing, they will likely catch the virus. In fact, 90 percent of the people who closely interact with an infected person who are not immune will catch measles.

People who have been infected with the virus are contagious for several days before and after the rash appears.

How do you know if you have measles?

The telltale rash of measles doesn’t usually appear until three or four days after you experience other symptoms, including:

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • High fever (when the rash finally appears, the fever may reach as high as 104 degrees)
  • Watery, red eyes

None of the symptoms appear until a week or 10 days after someone has been infected by the virus.

Is measles really that dangerous? A lot of people had it back in the day.

Before the vaccine was available in 1963, almost everyone caught measles by the time they were 15. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates up to 4 million people caught measles each year.

Not everyone who contracted measles died. However, the CDC also reports that up to 500 people died every year from measles, 48,000 were hospitalized annually and 1,000 experienced brain swelling because of measles.

The complications measles can cause can be devastating. In children, one out of 10 who have measles will also develop an ear infection that could leave them with permanent hearing loss.

One in 20 children with measles will also develop pneumonia, which can be deadly. One in 1,000 kids will have brain swelling as a result of a measles infection.

It’s possible to have measles and emerge unscathed, but the virus comes with real potential for dire effects, including death.

Can you catch measles if you’ve been vaccinated?

It’s possible, but highly unlikely, to catch measles after you’ve been vaccinated. There are two doses of the MMR (mumps/measles/rubella) vaccine — 93 percent of people who get one dose are immune, and 97 percent of people who get two doses are immune from measles.

Kids typically get the first dose of MMR at 12 to 15 months, with the second dose given between ages 4 to 6. The vaccines can be given closer together.

If you’re a teen or adult and you aren’t sure whether you’re immune, check your medical records for the MMR vaccine. If you aren’t able to do that, a blood test can determine whether you’re immune.

If you aren’t immune, you can get two doses of the MMR vaccine at least four weeks apart.

People who catch measles even though they were vaccinated usually have less intense symptoms, and are also less likely to spread the disease to other people, says the CDC. Although experts aren’t sure why vaccinated people catch it, it could be that their immune system did not respond properly to the vaccine.

If you were vaccinated as a child, do you need a booster?

If you received two doses of the MMR vaccine, you don’t need a booster. The two-dose MMR is extremely effective and you should be protected for life. If you only got one dose of the vaccine, ask your doctor if you could benefit from another dose.

Your primary care physician is your healthcare “home base.” Find the right primary care physician for your family.

When your medical needs can’t wait, Edward-Elmhurst Health has board-certified providers ready to treat your non-emergency urgencies.

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