Dr. Margolis answers all of your questions about the recent measles outbreak and explains what you can do to keep your family protected.
Measles is a highly infectious and dangerous disease caused by the rubeola virus. Measles is one of the most contagious of all infectious diseases, causing approximately 9 out of 10 susceptible persons who come into close contact with a measles patient to contract the virus. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, there were major epidemics every 2 to 3 years, resulting in approximately 2.6 million deaths each year. Fortunately, from 2000 to 2017 the MMR vaccine has prevented as many as 21.1 million deaths. There has been a significant improvement in infection rates in recent years due to widespread use of the MMR vaccine; so much so that many have come to believe that measles no longer poses a threat to public health. Unfortunately, it has taken the recent, measles outbreaks to remind everyone just how dangerous this disease can be. According to information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments, in the month of January, 2019 there were 79 individual cases of measles reported in ten states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Luckily, there are steps you can take to keep you and your family protected, including staying informed about what causes these outbreaks and what symptoms to watch out for.
What Causes a Measles Outbreak?
A measles outbreak can be caused by an unvaccinated traveler who gets the measles outside of the country and brings it back into the United States. The measles virus is highly contagious and spreads quickly in communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.
In 2018, the 17 outbreaks in New York State, New York City, and New Jersey were primarily among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities. These outbreaks were associated with travelers who brought measles back from Israel, where a large outbreak is occurring.
How is Measles Spread and What are the Symptoms?
Measles is a highly contagious virus spread by simply coughing and sneezing. Generally, symptoms develop 10 to 12 days after exposure. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 children die from complications related to measles. The beginning symptoms include:
- Runny Nose
- Red and Watery Eyes
Three to five days after these initial symptoms, a rash will break out starting at the hairline and face and spreading all the way down to the feet. When the rash appears, the fever may spike.
Is the Measles Vaccine Safe?
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is very safe. There can be some minor side effects including a sore arm from the shot, mild rash, fever and temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, but most people who receive the vaccine do not experience any issues.
How Effective is the Vaccine?
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is very effective, with a single dose having a 93% chance of preventing contraction of this highly contagious disease. Two doses are about 97% effective. The MMR vaccine not only helps protect yourself or your child, but also helps to keep everyone around you safe and healthy.
When is the Best Time to Get the Measles Vaccine?
The CDC recommends that children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, with the first dose received around 12 months to 15 months and the second dose around 4 to 6 years old. Even though it is best to get both doses of the vaccine during childhood, the CDC recommends that teens and adults who have not been previously vaccinated still get at least one dose of the vaccine.