The Spread of Measles

Lately, the spread of measles has been in the news as more and more confirmed cases emerge. The CDC reports that as of March 28th, 2019, there has already been more confirmed cases in the US than was seen in the entirety of 2018. As of this publication, the 2019 outbreak has reached 15 states. While Nebraska does not have any confirmed cases, two of its border states do: Colorado and Missouri. It is helpful to know about measles and what can be done to prevent it as well as what proper steps you should take should you suspect you or a loved one has the virus.

What is Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. It is easily spread through the air via coughing and sneezing. The virus can even live in outside of a body and in the air for up to two hours. Measles can post a serious risk of complications in pregnant, immunocompromised, or the very young or old age populations. Therefore, it is not only important to get vaccinated but to know the common signs and symptoms of this illness.

Individuals will typically start with a fever, runny nose, and cough. They may have spots in their mouth that sometimes are described as grains of salt on the insides of their cheeks. A few days later a rash develops. This rash will usually start on the face and spread to the neck, trunk, and extremities. It can be described as flat, red spots that can form groups or patches. An infected person may also develop red, runny eyes and become extra sensitive to bright light sources. Typically, after about 3-4 days, the rash will start to turn brown and possibly peel like a sunburn, and the infected person will start to feel better.

Measles Skin Rash - Image Provided by the CDC
View of measles rash formed on lower abdomen – Image via CDC

Prevention

There is a vaccine for the virus known as the MMR Vaccine. However, there are certain groups that are at risk of getting measles. Those include individuals behind on their immunizations, too young to receive the MMR vaccine, or are from countries where immunizations are uncommon.

Someone who has measles should make sure to not go into public spaces as the virus is very contagious. An infected person can easily spread the virus to a majority of people in a crowded space if they aren’t vaccinated against it.

How do we treat it?

If you believe you or a loved one has measles, it is best to call a medical professional BEFORE you head to a clinic so that they can determine the best course of action in treating the condition. This also helps prevent spreading the virus further.

Measles is a self-limited condition, and treatment is usually supportive. A patient may be given Tylenol for fevers or muscle aches and encouraged to drink plenty of water and rest. After getting measles, some children might get ear infections, but it’s also important to watch for other signs of more severe illnesses as well.

Again, measles is a preventable disease with the MMR vaccine, so make sure your child receives their shots at 14-16 months, then again at age 4-6. If you haven’t received this vaccination during these time frames, it’s not too late. Call your primary care doctor to see if you can get immunized. This is especially important for anyone wanting to get pregnant, as measles carries a risk of prematurity or even miscarriage. So, make sure you get your children vaccinated and tell your friends too!