We have seen a large increase of Measles in the United States during 2019. To be better prepared let’s review what Measles is and how it to handle it.
Measles has been around for over a 1,000 years and is one of the most contagious diseases we get to deal with.
Measles is a childhood infection caused by a virus. Once quite common, measles can almost always be prevented with a vaccine. Measles can be serious and even fatal for small children. The disease still kills worldwide more than 100,000 people a year, most under the age of 5.
As a result of high vaccination rates in the United States, measles hasn’t been widespread here for more than a decade. The United States averaged about 60 cases of measles a year from 2000 to 2010, but in 2019 the number of cases has jumped to over 1,000 so far. Recently in Moscow, Idaho two individuals have come down with the diseases.
Measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult. When someone with measles coughs, sneezes or talks, infected droplets spray into the air, where other people can inhale them. It can live in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed for up to two hours.
The infected droplets may also land on a surface, where they remain active and contagious for several hours. You can contract the virus by putting your fingers in your mouth or nose or rubbing your eyes after touching the infected surface.
A person with measles can spread the virus to others, starting four days before any rash appears and they remains contagious for about four days after the rash has been present.
Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected. Typically a person is immune if they have already had the measles or have been vaccinated.
Measles signs and symptoms appear around 10 to 14 days after the exposure to the virus. Measles typically begins with a mild to moderate fever, often accompanied by a persistent dry cough, runny nose, red, watery eyes, and sore throat. This relatively mild stage may last two or three days.
Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet.
Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104°F.
After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades. The infection occurs in stages over a period of two to three weeks. About one in four people who get measles will be hospitalized.
Call your doctor first if you think you or your child may have been exposed to measles or if you or your child has a rash resembling measles. By calling first you reduce the risk of infecting others in the community and the medical staff.
If you find yourself caring for someone with measles, follow your doctor’s instructions and take appropriate precautions to protect vulnerable family and friends. Because measles is highly contagious from about four days before to four days after the rash breaks out, those with measles shouldn’t return to activities in which they interact with other people during that period.
It may also be necessary to keep nonimmunized people like siblings and friends away from the infected person during this time.
Vaccination is the best protection against measles. Now would be a good time to review your family’s vaccination records with your doctor.
Measles is still common in many other countries and is just a plane ride away.
Thanks to the CDC, Mayo Clinic, and Public Health for their help on this article.