by Kimberly Allen RN
Measles also known as rubeola is a highly contagious childhood illness that is caused by a virus. Measles is an infection that affects the respiratory system and can be very serious, even fatal for young children. At one time measles was a very common illness, in fact it was so common that most people had become ill with the disease before the age of 20. Then when the vaccine for measles became available in 1963 the incidence of measles significantly declined in the following years to the point where there were almost no cases in the US and Canada. Then in 2000 the World Health Organization noticed there were more and more cases being reported. The estimated that year that there were over 45 million cases of measles with 800,000 deaths from it worldwide. By the year 2010 there were approximately 380 deaths every day from the measles, a disease that had been nearly erradicated by vaccination is strong and taking lives again. Last year there were 222 confirmed cases of measles in the US up from almost none just 10 years earlier and the vaccine is not only still available but better than it was when first developed. The problem is tha many parents have decided for one reason or another not to get their children vaccinated. The most common reason given is that they are afraid the vaccine can cause autism. There is absolutely no evidence to support those fears. In fact there have been several studies involving thousands of children and there has been no connection between autism and this vaccine found.
Not vaccinating your child against the measles not only leaves him/her vulnerable to the disease but also to the many potential complications that can develop due to the disease. The complications can range from ear infections to encephalitis which is an inflammation of the brain. Encephalitis occurs in approximately 1 in 1,000 people with measles and can lead coma or even death. Other potentially serious complications include bronchitis, croup, or pneumonia. Pneumonia is another common and potentially fatal complication of measles. Young children’s immune systems are not fully developed and are weakened further by the disease leaving them particularly vulnerable to a very dangerous type of pneumonia. Another potentially serious complications arises when a pregnant woman is exposed to a child wit the measles. Even if the adult received the vaccine as a child it’s effectiveness has diminished significantly if you haven’t had a booster. if a pregnant woman were to contract measles she could have preterm labor, a low birth weight baby or even a miscarriage. In some cases measles can cause a blood disorder known as thrombocytopenia which is a low platelet count and platelets are crucial for clotting blood.
The measles usually develops in stages over 2-3 weeks time. For the first 7-14 days after you become infected the virus incubates and there are no symptoms. Then the symptoms start to develop with a fever and cough, a runny nose and sore throat as well as inflammation of the eyes. This stage usually lasts 2-3 days then the measles rash begins to show. The measles rash is small slightly raised spots. Usually the rash starts on the face especially along the hair ling and behind the ears. The rash will progress down the body over the next few days and while the rash is spreading the fever is rising and can get as high as 105 F.
There is no treatment for measles, any treatment would focus on reducing the fever and making the child comfortable. However, do not give aspirin to children. Should the child develop and ear infection or pneumonia the Dr will give antibiotics if it is a bacterial infection. The best treatment for measles is to get your child vaccinated before he/she can get the disease. Your child should get the first dose of the MMR vaccine between 12-15 months not before, any dose given before the child is 12 months old will not be counted. The second dose of vaccine is usually given between 4-6 years of age or before entering kindergarten. However, as long as there is at least 28 days between the first and second doses it can be given sooner. So if your child wasn’t vaccinated between 12-15 months and is going to enter kindergarten he/she can still receive both doses as long as there are at least 28 days between doses. The vaccine wears off after approximately 10yrs so adults should get a booster.