How to prevent the measles

How to prevent the measles

During the last six months, more than 1,000 cases of measles have been confirmed in 22 states across the U.S.  Cases have been reported as close as Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Tennessee.

Measles is a highly transmissible acute viral illness that is spread through the air by coughing and sneezing.  Typically, the virus presents with 4 stages:

  1. Incubation period: This period typically lasts from 6-21 days after exposure. The virus spreads through the respiratory system.
  2. Prodrome: This stage lasts between 2-4 days and is characterized by high fever, fatigue and decreased appetite followed by cough, runny nose and pink eye. Gray spots usually show up in the mouth during this time period.
  3. Rash: The characteristic measles rash does not show until 2-5 days after the fever occurs.
  4. Recovery: Clinical improvement starts 48 hours after rash, but a cough may last for 1-2 weeks.

Measles is highly contagious, and 90% of people exposed to measles who are not immune are likely to contract the infection. Measles can be prevented with the MMR vaccine. The Center for Disease Control’s current recommendation for vaccinating against the measles is to get two doses.

  • One dose is 93% effective. The first dose should be given between 12-15 months of age.
  • Two doses is 97% effective. The second dose should be given at 4 years of age.

If you are traveling abroad or to high prevalence areas, it is safe to get a dose of the MMR vaccine as early as 6 months of age; however, the child will need to get two additional doses at the otherwise recommended ages.  If your child is 1 year of age or older, he or she may get two doses at least 28 days apart; this would count as their normal two dose series regardless of age.  If your infant is younger than 6 months, ensure adequate handwashing techniques and avoid travel to areas with a high prevalence for measles.

The virus can live on surfaces or in an airspace for up to 2 hours after the infected person has coughed or sneezed. Many groups of people can have more severe complications from measles, including infants, pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals. Secondary complications from the measles include pneumonia, brain infections, neurologic complications, blindness, cardiac complications and death.

If you have any questions, concerns or would like more information, please contact your primary care provider or call Marshall Pediatrics at 304-691-1300.

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Susanna Kapourales, MD

Dr. Kapourales is a pediatrician at Marshall Health and an assistant professor of the department of pediatrics at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.