What's Up with Measles?

By Monica Kemph, MD
Pediatrician, Arkansas Children's Hospital

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Measles has received a lot of attention over the last year. Much of the focus surrounded an outbreak of measles in several states, and the growing trend of fewer children receiving their necessary vaccines.

Between December of 2014 and spring of last year, about 150 cases of measles arose, linked to an amusement park in California. The first case was that of an 11-year-old boy who did not get his measles shot.

What is measles?

Measles is an infection that presents with fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, diarrhea and rash. It can cause serious complications, especially in young children. For some children it can lead to pneumonia, deafness, brain damage and even death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "about 1 in 4 people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized; 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage; 1 or 2 out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care."

How do we get it?

The measles virus can easily spread through the air. Whenever a person infected with measles coughs or sneezes, many of those around him or her (9 out of 10 people) can get infected if they are not protected.

Through an effective vaccination program, measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000. Although measles is infrequently seen in our country, it is still common in many parts of the world. People who did not get their measles shots get the illness while traveling in other countries. They then bring the disease into the U.S. and infect unvaccinated people including children too young to get their shots.

Last year's outbreak likely started from a traveler who got measles while abroad. This person then visited an amusement park in California while he was contagious and spread the disease to others.

How do we prevent measles?

The best prevention is to get a shot against measles. The CDC recommends all children get two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. The first dose is given at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. The shot prevents measles, mumps and German measles, especially after two doses. Two doses of the MMR vaccine provides 97 percent protection against measles.

Give your kids and loved ones adequate protection against measles, bring them to their pediatrician or primary care provider for their scheduled MMR vaccines.

Vaccines are safe, effective and keep us healthy! A quick pinch for nearly a lifetime of protection!