Measles Outbreak: How to Protect Yourself from Measles Cases

By: Women's Care Florida Staff

Measles is caused by a highly contagious virus transmitted through respiratory particles via coughing and sneezing. The droplets left behind after a cough or sneeze can infect someone up to two hours after the infected person leaves the room. Symptoms generally begin seven to 14 days after exposure. Recently, a measles outbreak occurred in the United States due to unvaccinated people contracting it. Learn how to protect yourself from measles cases.

Why are we talking about measles now?

The U.S. considered measles cases eliminated since 2000, yet we continue to see a measles outbreak each year. However, no infections occurred within the U.S. Virtually all cases reported in the U.S. in the last 20 years occurred in foreign visitors or Americans who contracted the illness while visiting a foreign country. Nearly all measles cases have been from unvaccinated individuals.

As of early May 2019, more than 800 cases of measles have been identified in the U.S. across 23 states, the highest number of cases in a single year since 1994. Some of the hardest-hit measles outbreak areas have significant international tourism, including in the Northeast and along the West Coast. Florida has four high-risk counties: Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Hillsborough.

What are the symptoms of measles?

Measles is best known for a red-spotted rash that starts at the head. It works its way down across the torso and then to the arms and legs. Infected individuals can spread measles four days before the rash appears and up to four days after the rash appears. Other symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. These symptoms can progress and lead to pneumonia (one in 20 cases), a brain infection called encephalitis (one in 1,000 cases), or deafness (rare). People with a compromised immune system have a much higher risk of complications. These include those on dialysis or on chemotherapy as their weak immune system can’t fight off the infection well.

The infection can have devastating effects on children and pregnant women. Measles can lead to death in about 1 to 2 in 1,000 children with the infection. Pregnant women can have a miscarriage, stillborn, or preterm birth. In addition, they can deliver particularly low birth weight infants.

Overall, up to one in four people with measles can become sick enough to require hospitalization. Pregnant women with measles are more likely to need hospitalization than other sectors of the population.

How to protect yourself from measles

We can prevent contracting measles with the MMR vaccine. This vaccine can also fight mumps and rubella before exposure. Also, a vaccine called MMRV adds protection against Varicella or chickenpox. Due to measles’ high contractility, an exposed, unvaccinated person can easily contact the disease.

Furthermore, no antibiotic exists to help measles making the vaccine especially important. Treatment includes supportive care, such as rest and fluids for infected individuals who can manage at home. Some people who become extremely sick may require IV fluids and even ventilators.

When should I vaccinate?

Children should be vaccinated twice beginning with the first dose at age 12 to 15 months and the second dose at age 4 to 6 years. If you plan to travel abroad with a baby less than one-year-old, the CDC recommends a single MMR dose for infants ages six through 11 months. Children less than six months old are generally not vaccinated and may get the benefit of their mother’s antibodies that circulated in her system while she was pregnant with the baby, as long as the mother was vaccinated prior to pregnancy. Exercise considerable caution when traveling with an unvaccinated infant to areas where measles cases have been reported. Two doses of vaccine provide a 97 percent protection rate against a measles outbreak.

What can I do if I’m not sure I’m vaccinated?

If you were born before 1957, you do not need to be vaccinated. Measles was so prevalent at that time period that it is extremely likely you are immune. The measles vaccine first became available in 1963. If you were born after 1957 and you are not sure if you have been vaccinated, a simple blood test can tell you if you have immunity. If you are not immune and are college-age, the two-dose course of vaccinations is recommended. The two doses should be separated by at least one month. If you are between 20 and early 60s, your immunity may have waned, and you should consider either the blood test or a single booster dose of MMR. Health care workers should consider the full two-dose course of treatment if they are not immune by a blood test.

Can pregnant women be vaccinated?

Experts consider MMR a live vaccine. This means it represents a diluted dose of a live vaccine. Because of that, doctors do not advise a dosage during pregnancy. Reports exist of women who received the vaccine by accident in pregnancy in which there have not been noted reports of bad outcomes for the mother or baby.

However, if you have plans of becoming pregnant, undergo a measles immunity blood test prior to conception. If not immune, you can get the MMR vaccine. Furthermore, plan to wait at least four weeks after the vaccination before trying to conceive. During pregnancy, if you receive a test with no immunity, get vaccinated after delivery. You can still breastfeed after the vaccine.

Contracting measles while pregnant

If a pregnant woman contracts measles or suspected to not have immunity, she should consult her provider for specialized medical treatment. Measles immunoglobulin can be given via IV within six days of exposure to decrease the risk of infection. If you have additional questions on the MMR vaccine, be sure to ask your Women’s Care Florida provider.

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