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Expanding Measles Outbreak Points to the Importance of Vaccinations

Terri Albarano and Sean McGonigleRecent reports of measles outbreaks in California and a number of other states are a real cause for concern for parents, caregivers, individuals who have an impaired ability to fight disease, and healthcare providers. Any individual who is unvaccinated is at risk for contracting this highly contagious disease. Here is what you need to know about the measles virus and what you can do to prevent yourself or anyone in your family from catching it:

I thought that measles was virtually eliminated in the United States. Why is this outbreak happening?

While measles is rare in the United States, there are still some parts of the world where not as many people are vaccinated and measles is more common. Unvaccinated people traveling to the United States from these countries or Americans who have visited these countries can bring the virus back with them.

How are the measles spread?

The measles are one of the most contagious diseases known. The measles virus can spread from person to person by droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing. The virus can remain airborne or on surfaces for several hours.

Why is it important to get your children vaccinated?

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the measles. Children should get two doses of the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine… the first between 12 to 15 months and again between 4 to 6 years old, just before starting school. More than 90% of children who receive the vaccine will develop immunity to the measles virus, which is usually lifelong.

How do I know the vaccine is still effective?

Almost all children who receive the vaccine will develop protection from the measles. However, if you are concerned, talk to your child’s doctor about doing a blood test to check for immunity to the measles.

Is there anyone who should not get the vaccine?

Children younger than 12 months of age should not get the vaccine, except in special circumstances. Pregnant women and people with conditions that weaken the immune system also should not get the vaccine.

Are adults who received the vaccine at risk of getting the measles?

The vast majority of people vaccinated with the current measles vaccine will achieve lifelong immunity. However, in rare cases, immunity can fade and adults can be at risk. Also, people vaccinated with older strains of the vaccine, especially strains used in the 1960’s, may not be protected. If you are concerned that your vaccine is not effective, talk to your doctor. You may need to receive one or two doses of the current vaccine to become fully protected.

MeaslesWhat are symptoms of the measles?

The most common symptoms of the measles are:

  • Rash starting on the face and spreading down
    to the neck, trunk, arms, and legs
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Eye irritation
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

What should I do if I think my child or someone else in my family has the measles?

Call your doctor immediately if you think your child or someone else in your family has the measles. Your doctor may want you to keep your child home from school to prevent exposing other children to the virus. Also, if your child needs to visit the doctor’s office or other medical facility for care during this time, please alert medical staff right away about the potential of your child having the measles. 

What happens to children who get the measles?

The majority of children who get the measles will get better in a few days. In some cases, the measles can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia or brain inflammation. Younger children are at higher risk of complications from the measles. This is why it is important to contact your doctor immediately if you suspect that your child has the measles.

Are there any treatments for the measles?

Doctors recommend treating the symptoms and letting the body fight the virus on its own. Symptoms can be treated with anti-fever medications like Tylenol® (acetaminophen) or Motrin® (ibuprofen) and plenty of fluids. Your doctor can recommend treatment for any complications.

For more information on the measles vaccination, click here. For more information on the current measles outbreak, please visit the CDC’s website.

By Terri Albarano, M.S., Pharm.D., Clinical Marketing Manager, Specialty Pharmaceuticals/Nutrition, Baxter Healthcare, Round Lake, IL; and Sean McGonigle, Pharm.D., PGY2 Infectious Diseases Pharmacy Resident, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA