More than 700 people across the U.S. have been infected by measles outbreaks this year. That’s the highest total number of cases since the disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. almost 20 years ago, and it’s only spring.
These outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large measles outbreaks are occurring. As a matter of health policy, if you or your children haven’t gotten both doses of the measles vaccine, that should be your top priority. Kids as young as 9 months old can get their first shot and, barring a medical issue, all healthy teenagers and adults can get the shot as well. They only sweeping exception is for people who are currently pregnant.
Here are answers to some of the questions you’re likely to have as these outbreaks evolve.
What is measles, exactly?
Measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus called rubeola. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that if one person contracts the disease, up to 90% of those close to them will become infected too if they aren’t immune.
People are most susceptible to contracting this illness in early childhood. Measles usually causes fatigue, runny nose, cough, slight fever, and head and back pains. In later stages, it can cause a high fever, Koplik’s spots (small white dots) inside the mouth and a rash that starts around the hairline and spreads downward.
Measles has a 25% hospitalization rate, is not treatable and has no cure. The virus can lead to serious complications, such as encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. In some extremely severe cases, measles and its complications can be fatal.
How can the measles be prevented?
Measles can be prevented with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. This vaccine is typically given in two different doses, the first being administered between 12 to 15 months of age and the second being administered between 4 to 6 years of age. The CDC reports that the two doses together are 97% effective at preventing the disease, while just getting one dose is 93% effective at preventing the disease.
Without being vaccinated, you’re at risk of contracting measles, especially because it is a highly contagious illness. If you live in an area that’s experiencing a measles outbreak, call your doctor for recommendations on what to do. Your doctor may recommend staying in your house until the outbreak subsides.
The best way to protect against measles is to get the measles-mumps-rubella shot (called the MMR shot). Doctors recommend that all children get the MMR shot.
Why should my child get the MMR shot?
The MMR shot:
- Protects your child from measles, a potentially serious disease, as well as mumps and rubella.
- Prevents your child from getting an uncomfortable rash and high fever from measles.
- Keeps your child from missing school or childcare (and keeps you from missing work to care for your sick child).
Is the MMR shot safe?
Yes. The MMR shot is very safe, and it is effective at preventing measles (as well as mumps and rubella). Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. But most children who get the MMR shot have no side effects.
What are the side effects?
Most children do not have any side effects from the shot. The side effects that do occur are usually very mild, such as a fever, rash, soreness or swelling where the shot was given, or temporary pain and stiffness in the joints (mostly in teens and adults). More serious side effects are rare. These may include high fever that could cause a seizure.
Is there a link between the MMR shot and autism?
No. Scientists in the United States and other countries have carefully studied the MMR shot. None has found a link between autism and the MMR shot.
Scott McGraw is Vice President of CCIG’s Employee Benefits division. He can be reached at 720-330-7924 or Scott.McGraw@thinkccig.com.
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