A recent outbreak of measles in California has many parents in Collin County concerned about the safety of their own children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 121 people from 17 states are reported to have measles so far this year, a marked increase since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000. Last year, 644 cases were reported in 27 states, including Texas. With the most recent outbreak being tied to Disneyland and affecting children from all over the country, parents in the Metroplex are asking questions about how they can protect their own children.
Dr. Kimberly Barksdale, a pediatrician on the medical staff and chair of the pediatric department at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Allen, feels that many parents do not fully understand the implications of not having their child vaccinated.
“Parents today are very lucky, they are young enough to never have seen or experienced a major outbreak, making vaccines seem less important,” Barksdale said. “The intensity of the anti-vaccine trend has surprised me, but I know that in the end, parents just want to make the best decisions for their children, and as a pediatrician my job is to help parents make informed decisions based on proven science.”
Dr. Chad Smith, another pediatrician on the medical staff at Texas Health Allen, also encourages the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination to prevent measles.
“The two-dose MMR vaccine series is considered more than 97 percent effective at providing lifelong immunity to measles,” Smith said. “Measles, in turn, is estimated to infect 90 percent of people that come in contact with it if they have no immunity to it, making it one of the most contagious viruses that we know of. The MMR vaccine has been subject to repeated research into its safety, and the MMR vaccine, like all the vaccines, is still subject to constant scrutiny and surveillance for side effects. It has been, and remains, a safe and effective vaccine.”
Drs. Barksdale and Smith are hearing lots of questions from parents, and, along with information from the CDC, offer answers to the following questions:
What is measles and how is it spread?
Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat mucus of an infected person, spreadable to others through coughing and sneezing. Also, measles virus can live for up to two hours on a surface or in an airspace where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air or touch the infected surface, then touch their eyes, noses, or mouths, they can become infected. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected. Measles is not spread by any other animal species other than humans.
What are some signs and symptoms of measles?
Symptoms of measles generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person is infected and include high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth. 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 degrees Fahrenheit.
Complications from measles
Even for healthy children, measles can cause serious medical complications including pneumonia, diarrhea or ear infections that cause permanent deafness. Some may suffer from complications as severe acute encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, which can cause seizures, permanent cognitive impairment or deafness. Measles can also be deadly due to respiratory or neurologic complications. Those most vulnerable to complications include children under the age of five, adults over the age of 20, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.
Is this measles outbreak a cause for concern?
Yes. For the most part, measles has been eliminated from the U.S., but not from other countries. Because of that, outbreaks can occur here due to international travel and, even if you don't travel out of the country, visitors from other countries can bring the disease to you. There is also an increase in unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children in our community and they pose a risk to you and your child.
What is the best way to protect my child?
The best way to protect your children is to have them properly immunized. Work with your physician. Of the 52 cases of measles from Disneyland recently, more than 55 percent had not been vaccinated.
As an adult, do I need additional measles vaccine?
Work with your primary care physician. If you are not sure if you were vaccinated, your physician can order a blood test to check your immunity. If you are traveling refer to the guidelines offered by the CDC at http://www.cdc.gov/measles/vaccination.html.
Can I take my child to public places?
Yes. It is difficult to lives our lives in a bubble. However, if there is a known outbreak of a certain illness (measles, flu, RSV, etc.), limit visits to public places, if possible. Always practice good hand hygiene, and teach your children to do the same. Lead by example. Teach them to cough or sneeze into their elbow. Keep your children home if they are ill. Work with your physician to immunize yourself and your children, including yearly flu vaccines.
How can I get more information or find a physician?
For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/measles/ or ask your primary care physician. For a referral to a physician on the medical staff of Texas Health Allen, please call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355) or visit TexasHealth.org/FindaPhysician.