February 23, 2024

What to know about Measles

The recent news about a measles outbreak at a Broward County elementary school has naturally raised some concerns among our community, especially considering how quickly this virus can spread. Given that vaccination efforts have significantly reduced the prevalence of measles, it's understandable that many of us might not be as acquainted with the disease and its symptoms as previous generations were. As a pediatrician, I'm dedicated to ensuring families are well-informed and equipped to tackle health issues such as measles. Being extra vigilant and closely observing for any signs of measles, especially if your child develops a fever and rash, is crucial for a prompt diagnosis and effective management.

How does Measles present?

Symptoms typically emerge 7-14 days following exposure to the virus, beginning with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. 2-3 days after these initial symptoms, tiny white spots known as Koplik spots might surface inside the mouth. Subsequently, 3-5 days after the onset of symptoms, a distinctive rash appears.

What characterizes the rash associated with Measles?

The measles rash is quite distinctive, typically starting with flat red spots at the hairline on the face and then spreading downwards to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. In addition to these flat red spots, small raised bumps can emerge on them. As the rash spreads from the head down the body, the spots might merge. Concurrently, when the rash develops, the individual's fever can soar to over 104° Fahrenheit.

What should I do if I suspect my child has Measles?

If you think your child may have measles, immediately reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance. Keeping your child isolated is key to preventing the spread of the disease. Always call ahead before visiting a clinic or hospital to alert them of your situation. This precaution is essential, as it enables healthcare facilities to take necessary steps to avoid further spread of the virus. For our Head2Toe families, we are offering home visits for cases of rashes that may be indicative of measles, regardless of whether you're enrolled in plans that typically include home visits or those that usually require in-office appointments. This approach helps us minimize the risk of spreading the virus by eliminating the need for your child to leave the house.

How is Measles treated?

In terms of treatment, our main focus is on alleviating symptoms, as measles is caused by a virus and there's no specific antiviral medication for it. The most effective defense we have is the MMR vaccine, which safeguards against measles, mumps, and rubella. The vaccine is usually administered in two doses: the first between 12-15 months of age and the second between 4-6 years. However, infants as young as 6 months can receive the MMR vaccine under certain circumstances. A single dose of the MMR vaccine is 93% effective in preventing measles, and two doses are 97% effective. Even though it's ideal to have the MMR vaccination prior to exposure, receiving the vaccine post-exposure can still be beneficial and may prevent the disease or result in a less severe illness. Receiving the MMR vaccine within 72 hours after exposure to measles can offer some level of protection or lead to a milder form of the disease. Alternatively, immunoglobulin (IG) may be administered within six days of exposure to measles to help protect against the disease or lessen the severity of the illness.

What can I do during a Measles outbreak?

Remain vigilant for symptoms and contact your healthcare provider promptly if you suspect an infection, as timely intervention is critical. Exercise caution regarding your surroundings and potential exposures, especially if your child is not fully vaccinated against measles. Individuals without vaccination protection are at a high risk of contracting measles upon exposure. This risk group includes unvaccinated children, infants too young for vaccination, individuals who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, and those who fail to develop a lasting or robust immune response to the vaccine. If you're not sure about your child's vaccine status, now's the time to chat with your doctor. Getting the MMR vaccine even after being exposed to measles might still offer some protection or at least make the illness milder.

What can I do if my child develops Measles?

Supportive care for measles primarily focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing complications.

  1. Fever Control: Use Tylenol or Motrin as required.
  2. Hydration: Ensure ample water intake and consider using hydration solutions or powders to enhance hydration.
  3. Rest: Prioritize rest and sleep for recovery.
  4. Stay in touch with your healthcare provider consistently. Should your child display symptoms like coughing, red eyes, diarrhea, ear pain, or high fevers, your healthcare provider can guide you on the next steps.

Complications can arise, ranging from ear infections and diarrhea to more severe conditions such as pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and, though rare, even death. These serious complications are exactly what we aim to avoid, and vaccinations have been shown to significantly reduce their occurrence. Be informed about the following statistics:

  • 1 out of every 10 children with measles develops ear infections that could lead to permanent hearing loss
  • 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children
  • 1 child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
  • 1 to 3 of every 1,000 children who become infected with measles will die from respiratory or neurologic complications.
  • 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the U.S. who get measles is hospitalized.

You can read more on Measles on the CDC website. If you have concerns or questions about measles, the MMR vaccine, or anything else health-related, we're here for you!

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