Between the 1950’s and the 1960’s, millions of Americans contracted the respiratory disease known as the measles. Measles are a viral infection with no known cure that can lead to serious conditions such as brain swelling, pneumonia and even death.
In 2000, the measles were considered to be completely eradicated from the United States. This is due to the introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1968, which protects against measles, rubella and mumps.
So, if we have a vaccine that protects us and our children from measles, why do we have to worry about the disease? And why does it seem to be making a comeback in the United States and Canada?
What exactly are the measles?
The measles is a viral infection that is spread easily, has a late onset of symptoms and can cause some serious issues for those who contract it.
The measles virus is highly contagious that spreads through the air and can live on surfaces for up to 2 hours. This means that someone with the measles virus can cough onto their hand, touch a doorknob and you can pick up the virus 2 hours later.
The Course of Illness
Once you contract the virus, you are actually not symptomatic until about 7-14 days later. This means that you can have the measles virus and pass it around for up to 2 weeks before you even show symptoms of having it.
And the early symptoms are hard to pin on the measles – they present as a high fever, cough and runny nose. Basically, it looks like a cold or flu. So at this point you may still not realize you have the measles virus.
It takes about 4 days after showing initial symptoms before a rash appears. This rash, a tell-tale sign of measles, typically begins on the face and spreads downward on the body. A fever often accompanies the rash and can peak as high as 104F.
After about 2-3 days, the rash and fever subsides.
While the common symptoms of the measles include flu-like symptoms, rash and fever, there are risks (especially in children) of experiencing more severe symptoms such as ear infections, pneumonia, diarrhea and viral encephalitis.
Viral encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain tissue caused by the measles virus. This swelling can cause convulsions, deafness or mental impairment. It can also lead to death.
While there is no cure for the measles, it is treated like any other viral infection – treat the symptoms and wait until the body fights off the infection.
Why are the measles so dangerous?
The measles are a highly contagious infection that spreads long before you even know you have it. This means you could feel perfectly okay and yet be handing out the disease like candy.
That makes it extremely difficult to contain and eliminate.
Apart from the fact that the measles spread so easily, the infection is extremely dangerous for babies and children. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has stated that the measles is the most deadly of all childhood rash and fever illnesses. Most measles-related deaths occur in children under the age of 5.
Why are the measles coming back?
While I’m not here to start a vaccine debate, the truth is: because people are not vaccinating.
Because the measles is a highly contagious disease, the only way to ensure a population does not get infected is by “herd immunity”. This means that the more contagious a disease is, the more people you need to vaccinate in order to prevent outbreaks.
For a disease like the measles, the coverage needs to be 95%. This means that at least 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to eradicate the disease.
The other 5% covers the population that, for medical reasons, cannot have the MMR vaccination. This means that if a person is healthy and can have the MMR vaccine, they need to do so to prevent spread of the measles infection.
That numbers stands at much higher than 5%, with parents and religious groups refusing the vaccination.
Therefore, the measles are making a comeback.
What can I do to protect my family and children from measles?
Or live in a bubble.