Ask the Expert: What About the Recent Measles Outbreak?

Measles can lead to ear infections, dehydration, pneumonia and death.

measles

In 2000, it was declared that measles were eliminated in the United States. However, in recent years, outbreaks of this vaccine-preventable disease have been frequently reported. And it’s a big problem.

“People have forgotten how devastating children’s diseases are,” says Sharon Fowler, M.D., Medical Director for Ascension Medical Group Cornerstone St. John Pediatric Associates.

“Measles is a highly contagious, life threatening disease. Many cases require admission to the intensive care unit.” Dr. Fowler knows the devastation this disease can cause.

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In fact, in the 1980s, Dr. Fowler received pediatric training in Texas during a large measles outbreak and witnessed children die as a result of the disease.

“Most of the children who were lost were not vaccinated,” she says. “Others had received the vaccine, but their immune systems were suppressed.” Children with suppressed immune systems who lost their lives included cancer patients and those who were already ill in the hospital.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles cases can occur due to an increase in the number of travelers who get measles abroad and bring it into the United States or through further spread of measles in U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.

The disease is still common in some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa. “People need to understand why there has been a measles rally,” Dr. Fowler says. “From my vantage point, parents are choosing not to immunize based on incorrect information.”

Parents may be wary of shots in general and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, in particular, as a potential cause of autism, she notes. However, autism is a developmental disorder and “vaccines do not cause the problem,” Dr. Fowler adds.

Currently, the CDC recommends children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12-15 months of age, and the second dose at 4-6 years of age. Measles can have serious consequences. The CDC notes that common complications from measles virus are ear infections and diarrhea.

These may lead to hearing loss and dehydration. Approximately 1 in 20 children with measles will develop pneumonia, which the CDC reports, is the most common cause of measles-related deaths in young children.

One out of every 1,000 children who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability, the CDC adds. One problem with spreading measles lies with the incubation period.

“Parents may not know that their kid is ill and contagious,” Dr. Fowler says. Symptoms usually develop 10-12 days after an exposure. Infected people can spread measles to others from four days before through four days after the rash appears.

“There is a red-brown rash, the color is a cross between a cranberry and a raisin,” Dr. Fowler says. The rash begins as individual spots all over the body, merging into a large rash. High fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes are also typical.

Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny spots – called Koplik spots – may appear inside the mouth. “The take home message is ‘get vaccinated’,” Dr. Fowler says. “If you have questions or have concerns about vaccines, ask your doctor.”

Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting ascension.org/michigan or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627).

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