In 1963, a vaccine against Measles (Rubeola), Mumps and Rubella (German Measles), the MMR vaccine, was developed and finally made available through physicians to the general public. This was a great day in medical science for all, especially children, parents and prospective parents. For hundreds of years, Rubeola, the “regular” measles had been a devastating, infectious scourge to populations, especially children. The MMR vaccine is responsible for practically eradicating the disease in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the Measles virus (Rubeola) still is a serious contagious virus that can occur and be fatal–but now, perhaps only 2 in 1,000 individuals who contract measles may die (according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Prior to 1963, the disease could kill up to 500 children in a year. The measles virus also can cause early labor, miscarriage in women who are pregnant, and low birth weight in infants whose mothers contracted measles.
The measles virus thrives in the mucosal lining of the nose, mouth, throat and lungs, and can be spread by transmitting droplets of body fluids in the air through coughing, expectorating (saliva), sneezing, and tears. Measles can be present in an infected individual–without symptoms showing for several (3 to 5) days. And a person can be considered contagious even 5 days following the disappearance of symptoms.
It is important for parents to note that no medicine currently exists that can kill the measles virus once a person has developed measles. But measles can be prevented by being inoculated with the MMR vaccine. Common symptoms of measles that parents and family members need to know are:
- Fever – Can be mild to high and often occurs prior to appearance of skin rash and may subside following the presence of rash;
- Blotchy reddish-brown skin rash that usually becomes visible within 4 to 5 days following infection; can show up on the face, hairline, neck, chest, torso, arms, legs and feet; may be accompanied by swollen glands (lymph nodes);
- Dry-sounding cough;
- Muscle aches, pains and fatigue;
- Runny nose and nasal congestion;
- Mouth sores – Can appear as white patches with bluish centers on the lining of the mouth and throat;
- Inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye, conjunctivitis (“Pink Eye”), red, swollen and itchy, watery eyes that may emit mucus; and
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia) – Rest in a darkened room may help alleviate the pain due to light sensitivity.
As of February 14, 2014, 20 new cases of the highly contagious measles virus occurring in the United States have been reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While measles seems to have been all but eliminated in the U.S., there continue to be outbreaks in other countries, and travelers can and have brought the disease into the U.S. Measles can occur in populations where children and others have not been vaccinated or exposed to this highly contagious virus. People are still at risk for getting measles unless they were born before 1957 when the disease was widespread in the U.S., or they have previously had measles, or they have received at least 2 doses of the MMR vaccine.
If you think your child may have been exposed to or already have the measles virus, please contact your children’s primary care provider or pediatrician as soon as possible to learn what you need to do in order to care for your child and at the same time prevent the spread of measles in your family and community.