How to Stay Safe From Measles

Emporia, VA – The Virginia Department of Health issued a press release informing people of a possible exposure to measles in the Northern Virginia area. More than 1,000 measles cases have been reported in the United States in 2019. At halfway through the year, this is already the greatest number of cases reported in a year in the U.S. in more than 25 years.

Measles is a serious and highly contagious respiratory disease that can be dangerous for infants and young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), from 2001-2013, 28% of children younger than 5 years old who had measles had to be treated in the hospital. It is easily spread through droplets in the air from the patient coughing or sneezing. Patients are contagious 4 days before the rash even starts and the virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed.

“Measles can be serious and it's more than just a rash and fever.  It can cause serious health complications so it's important to vaccinate,” says Spencer Feldmann, MD, a family medicine physician at Southside Physicians Network (SPN). 

Measles starts with a fever that can get very high. Some of the other symptoms that may occur are:

  • Cough, runny nose, and red eyes
  • Rash of tiny, red spots that start at the head and spread to the rest of the body
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear infection

For some children, measles can lead to:

  • Pneumonia (a serious lung infection)
  • Lifelong brain damage
  • Deafness
  • Death

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent measles for yourself and your family.  Some people are unable to get the vaccine due to medical conditions and treatments including those with cancer. When enough people (93% to 95%) are vaccinated against measles, the entire community is less likely to get the disease.

There are 2 vaccines that can prevent measles:

  • The MMR vaccine protects children and adults from measles, mumps, and rubella
  • The MMRV vaccine protects children from measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox

“The most important thing for everyone to know, especially parents, is that getting vaccinated is safe and effective,” says Dr. Feldmann. 

Measles used to be very common in the United States before the measles vaccine was available. Due to high vaccination rates, it was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. It is still common in many parts of the world. Every year, unvaccinated travelers (mostly unvaccinated Americans) bring measles into the U.S. from those countries.

Measles outbreaks have been confirmed in 26 states this year. According to the Virginia Department of Health, the high number of cases in 2019 is primarily the result of a few large outbreaks occurring in Washington state and New York which started in late 2018.

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