main of A Case of Measles is No Laughing Matter

A Case of Measles is No Laughing Matter

Measles, also called rubeola, is a very contagious virus. It can cause serious illness, including pneumonia or swelling of the brain.

Some complications may cause convulsions and may result in loss of hearing or in permanent intellectual disability. Pregnant women that get measles may give birth prematurely. As many as three in 1,000 children that get measles die from the disease, often as a result of pneumonia. Children under the age of five, adults over the age of 20, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk for serious complications.

Fortunately, measles is relatively rare in the U.S. because most people get vaccinated against it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there were 49 confirmed cases in the U.S. in 2021, though that’s up from only 13 cases reported in 2020.

Signs of Measles

Most people know measles causes a red blotchy rash, but that’s not the only symptom. According to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms include a high fever (greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit), dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, and conjunctivitis (red, irritated eyes). Earache and diarrhea sometimes also occur.

Signs of measles usually appear one to two weeks after someone has been exposed to the virus. Respiratory symptoms and a fever often appear first, while the tell-tale rash usually appears three to five days later, starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body. Small white spots often appear in the mouth as well, known as Koplik’s spots. The rash usually lasts about a week.

If you think you or your child have symptoms of measles, call your doctor. Don’t just show up at a clinic or emergency room without calling ahead, because you shouldn’t expose other people to the virus needlessly. 

Measles Vaccines

A vaccine for measles is usually given as part of a combination vaccine called the MMR. It protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Children usually get vaccinated at 12 to 15 months of age and again between the ages of four and six. In fact, in most states proof of vaccination is required to enroll in public school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine is 97 percent effective against measles if you receive both doses.

When someone has measles,they build up natural immunity to the disease and cannot get it again, even if they are not vaccinated. Many people born before 1957, prior to widespread vaccination, have this natural immunity.

Adults who aren’t sure if they received both vaccines are children can get vaccinated as adults.The CDC recommends anyone traveling out of the country make sure their measles vaccines are up to date.

Treating Measles

There are no specific treatments for measles. Measles is a virus and as thus, doesn’t respond to antibiotics. Treatment typically focuses on symptoms, giving medications for fever and cough syrups to relieve cough.

One in five unvaccinated patients with measles requires hospitalization for treatment of complications like pneumonia. Hospitals can provide oxygen and assistance breathing, if needed, as well as intravenous fluids and medications.

If you’ve been exposed to measles, there are a couple treatments that can help prevent infection or lessen the severity of the illness if you do get sick, provided you receive these treatments in time. According to healthline, these treatments include a measles vaccine given within three days of exposure and immunoglobulin (immune proteins) given within six days of exposure. If you think you or your child have been exposed to measles, stay home so you don’t risk exposing anyone else and call your doctor right away for further instructions.