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Measles: What You Need To Know

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(From the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Measles is a serious respiratory disease that is spread easily through coughing and sneezing. Measles is a very contagious virus that can spread even if the person with measles is no longer in the room. Measles can also be spread by an infected person even before a rash or any other symptoms appear.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011, 38 percent of children younger than 5 years old who had measles in the United States had to be treated in the hospital. Although the number of cases in the U.S. is low, measles is common in other countries.

Measles is spread from person to person through the air by infectious droplets. Severe cases of measles can cause pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage, and death. One to three children out of 1,000 in the U.S. who get measles will die from the disease.

Symptoms of measles

  • Fever—which can become very high
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Feeling run down, achy (also known as malaise)
  • Red, watery eyes (similar to pink eye)
  • A rash that runs from the hairline to the face and neck
  • Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth (Koplik’s spots)

Measles vaccine

To prevent measles, get vaccinated. The vaccine available for measles is a shot that combines the vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). The vaccine protects children by preparing their bodies to fight the measles virus. Almost all children (95 out of 100) who get two doses of MMR vaccine will be protected from measles. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider for a copy of your children's vaccine records.

Immunization protects future generations. Vaccines have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. If we continue vaccinating now, and vaccinating completely, parents in the future may be able to trust that some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm their children in the future.

Recommended vaccination schedule

Two doses of measles vaccine (MMR) separated by at least 4 weeks, are routinely recommended for all children. All persons born during or after 1957 should have documentation of at least one dose of MMR or other evidence of measles immunity. Certain adolescents and adults should receive two doses of MMR.

The first dose of MMR should be given on or after the first birthday. Any dose of measles-containing vaccine given before 12 months of age should not be counted as part of the series.

A second dose of MMR is recommended to produce immunity in those who failed to respond to the first dose. The second dose of MMR vaccine should routinely be given at age 4–6 years, before a child enters kindergarten or first grade. The recommended visit at age 11 or 12 years can serve as a catch-up opportunity to verify vaccination status and administer MMR vaccine to those children who have not yet received two doses of MMR.

If you are unsure if you or your child has been vaccinated, contact your family physician and discuss how to go about tracking down your medical record.

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