The shocking news about the recent measles outbreak is a regrettable reminder to all of us of just how preventable this disease truly is when your child is vaccinated. Measles, also called rubeola, 10-day measles, or red measles, is a highly contagious viral illness that results in a rash, fever and cough.
The most serious complications from measles include the following:
- Ear infections
- Inflammation of the brain
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Patients with poor immune systems or other illnesses will become very ill if they develop measles. Deaths have been reported.
Measles can be prevented with the MMR vaccine
The measles vaccine (called MMR, as it is often given in combination with the mumps and rubella vaccine) is generally given at 12 to 15 months old and then again between 4 to 6 years of age.
Once fully vaccinated, a child has a very low chance of becoming sick or spreading the germ to others.
Is the vaccine safe?
Some people avoid vaccines because they believe immunizations can make you sick. This simply isn’t true. Serious side effects are rare, and most vaccines only cause minor side effects. If a child gets a disease that could have been prevented with a vaccine, the risks to that child and other people is much greater than from any vaccine reaction.
If you choose not to vaccinate your child, you are not only putting your child at risk but other people and their children, as well, especially those with weakened immune systems. As recently as 2000, measles had been declared all but eradicated. Yet last year, as the anti-vaccine movement continued to grow, there were 644 reported cases.
Exposure to measles
Measles spreads from one child to another through direct contact with discharge from the nose and throat. Sometimes it spreads through airborne droplets from an infected child. It occurs mostly in winter and spring. The lesions of rubeola are unique and usually allow for a diagnosis simply on physical examination.
It may take between eight to 12 days after exposure to measles for a child to develop symptoms. But it’s important to keep in mind that the virus is contagious long before that, meaning children could be contagious before they even know they have the disease.
Symptoms of measles
During the early phase of the disease (which lasts between one to four days), symptoms usually resemble those of an upper respiratory infection. Each child may experience symptoms differently, but the following are the most common symptoms of measles:
- Hacking cough
- Redness and irritation of the eyes
- Small red spots with white centers appear on the inside of the cheek (usually occur two days before the rash on the skin appears)
- A deep, red, flat rash that starts on the face and spreads down to the trunk, arms and legs.
The rash starts as small distinct lesions, which then combine as one big rash. After three to four days, the rash will begin to clear, leaving a brownish discoloration and skin peeling.
Symptoms may resemble other skin conditions or medical problems, so consult your child’s physician for a diagnosis.
Caring for a child with measles
Since it is a viral infection, there is no cure for measles. Treatment, which is aimed at prevention or decreasing the severity of the symptoms, may include:
- Increased fluid intake
- Acetaminophen for fever. Do not give aspirin to a child without first contacting the child’s physician. Aspirin, when given as treatment for children, has been associated with Reye syndrome, a potentially serious or deadly disorder in children. Therefore, pediatricians and other health care providers recommend that aspirin (or any medication that contains aspirin) not be used to treat any viral illnesses in children.
- If your child has been exposed but has not yet been immunized, your child’s physician may give the vaccine to the child within 72 hours to help prevent the disease.
Other ways to prevent measles from spreading:
- Children should not attend school or daycare for four days after the rash appears.
- Ensure all of the people your child comes in contact with have been properly immunized. Vaccinations are a very safe and proven way to protect your child from diseases that can cause injury or death.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Delafield Pediatrics and Pewaukee Pediatrics. Find a pediatrician near you.
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