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Measles 101: How to Protect Your Child

May 03, 2019

Measles cases in the United States have been steadily rising throughout the year. From January 1 to April 26, 704 cases of measles were confirmed in 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the second-greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since measles was eliminated in 2000. While Arkansas has successfully avoided any cases this year, the disease has still hit close to home with nearby states Missouri, Tennessee and Texas among those with confirmed cases.

As measles makes its way around the country, Arkansas Children’s Hospital pediatrician, Dr. Hannah Renno, shares what Arkansas parents need to know about measles symptoms, the recommended vaccination schedule and what you can do if your child contracts the disease.

 

What is Measles?

Measles is a serious respiratory disease caused by a virus. Measles is highly contagious and spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

“The measles can spread rapidly,” Dr. Renno said.  “It is an airborne infection, so by simply being in a room where somebody that has the infection has been, I can get the infection. Even if I am not in the room at the same time, the infection can live in the air for two hours.”

Symptoms of measles include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Two or three days after symptoms begin, small white spots, known as Koplik spots, may appear inside the mouth.

One of the most common symptoms of the disease is a rash that typically breaks out three to five days after symptoms begin. The rash usually starts out as flat red spots that develop on the face at the hairline and spread to the neck, arms, legs and feet. According to Dr. Renno, the development of the rash is when most patients realize that they have been infected with measles. “The scary part is that they have already been contagious for at least four days before the rash shows up,” she added.

 

How Can I Prevent Measles?

The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is the most effective way to protect your child against a potential measles outbreak.

  • For children 6 years of age and younger, the CDC recommends one dose of MMR vaccine at age 12-15 months, with a second dose given between the ages of 4 and 6.
  • For those 7-18 years of age, one dose of the MMR vaccine, followed by a second dose at least 4 weeks later, is recommended.

Two doses of MMR are approximately 97 percent effective at preventing measles, while one does is about 93 percent effective.

“What vaccines do is they trick our body into thinking that we’ve been exposed to the actual disease,” Dr. Renno said. “We build antibodies, and someday when we’re exposed to the disease, our body is ready to fight it before we ever get symptoms.”

Dr. Jose Romero, chief of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Section at Arkansas Children’s, has long been an advocate for childhood immunization in Arkansas. He has been named CDC Childhood Immunization Champion for his efforts.

“I believe that vaccination for the prevention of infectious diseases is the single most important medical intervention that has led to improved quality of life and longevity,” said Dr. Romero. “They prevent early death and potential lifelong medical conditions that could result from a measles infection.  As I tell the trainees, no other medical intervention has such a profound and long-lasting effect as vaccination.”

 

What If My Child Has Measles?

If you suspect that your child has been infected with measles, you should take them to your pediatrician immediately. They will confirm whether or not your child has received the vaccine, and will take precautions to make sure your child receives care while also protecting other patients to prevent the disease from spreading. For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html.

You can also learn more by visiting one of our locations or by calling 501-364-1100. Remember, if you believe your child is experiencing any of these symptoms or has been exposed to measles, the Emergency Departments at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and Arkansas Children’s Northwest in Springdale are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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