‘Spot on’ information about measles
Parents have been spotting me out and about and when they do, they are asking me more and more questions about measles. To answer their questions, let me spread some information about this disease, rather than the measles virus itself.
What is it, and how does it spread?
Measles is a viral illness that is highly contagious. It spreads when an infected person sneezes or coughs and another person either inhales or touches the infected droplets from that sneeze or cough. It is one of the most infectious viruses we know of; droplets can survive on a surface for up to two hours.
Although most people recover without problems, in some children and adults, it can be life-threatening and result in pneumonia, difficulty breathing, or a brain infection called encephalitis that can result in brain damage and/or death.
¯ High fever
¯ A red or brownish blotchy rash from head to toe
¯ Preceded for a few days by cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis or red watery eyes.
Protecting your child
The good news is that we have a vaccine to protect children from measles. It is a live, but very mild or tame form of the virus. It builds up immunity against the real thing and is usually given at 12-15 months and again at 4 to 6 years of age.
The vaccine we use is at least 95% effective in preventing a child from getting measles.
Unfortunately, as more parents opt not to vaccinate or to delay vaccination, due to misinformation regarding the safety of this vaccine, the virus is now spreading in this country and around the world, especially in areas where vaccine rates are lower than they should be.
Side effects of vaccine
In fact, getting measles is much more worrisome than getting the vaccine itself.
Possible side effects of this vaccine are usually very mild:
¯ Pain or swelling at the injection site
¯ A fever for a day or two
¯ Occasionally, a mild rash.
One thing that does not result from this vaccine, based on strong scientific evidence, is autism. As to infants under a year of age who are too young for the vaccine, the better the immunization rate in your community, the better the protection for infants as well as for those immunocompromised children who are also ineligible for the vaccine.
Hopefully tips like these will be nothing to sneeze at and help you make a “rash”ional decision to get vaccinated against the measles virus to prevent the spread of this very serious and contagious viral illness.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5.