With the recent outbreak of measles in Washington state – which led the governor to proclaim a public health emergency – it’s important to better understand this highly contagious virus and its effects.
Healthy Outlook spoke to family medicine physician, Paige Kasai, MD, from Overlake Clinics Sammamish, about why measles is concerning, and how you can protect yourself and your family.
Should parents be concerned about the measles cases in Washington state if their children are vaccinated?
Unfortunately, there is a small risk of contracting measles even if you are appropriately vaccinated. About 3 percent of vaccinated children will develop measles if there is an outbreak. So if symptoms of measles do present, please let your healthcare provider know immediately.
Why is measles so dangerous?
People today don’t remember, but in the 1960s, measles was rampant. Millions of people each year got the measles of which 48,0000 were hospitalized, 4,000 developed brain swelling and 500 people died.
It’s dangerous because it spreads like wildfire. Measles is spread through cough or sneeze and can stay in the air up to two hours after an infected person was in the area.
We worry so much about measles because of the complications that can occur as a result of infection. As many as 1 in 20 children will get pneumonia, which is the most common cause of death in young children. There is also risk of encephalitis, or brain swelling, which can lead to hearing loss, developmental delay, seizure and death. Rarely, people can develop something called SSPE (sclerosing panencephalitis), which is fatal and can occur 7 to 10 years after the original infection with measles. Even if someone is thought to have completely recovered, there is the risk of this condition occurring, and it is most common in children under 2 years old.
What are the signs and symptoms to watch for?
Initial symptoms of measles include high fever, cough, redness of the eyes and inflammation of the nasal passages as well as fatigue and general malaise. Watch for a rash, which usually starts about 3 to 5 days after initial symptoms and presents as flat red spots on the face that spreads downwards toward the feet and then can become raised. Some people develop Koplik spots, which are spots in the back of the throat.
If adults have never been vaccinated, should they get vaccinated now?
Yes! If you’re an adult and have never been vaccinated, you should have the two-dose vaccine series.
If you are unsure, you can have your doctor check your measles titers and they can determine whether or not you need a booster.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients born before 1957 are thought to be immune.
What advice would you give those who are either against vaccines or on the fence regarding whether or not to vaccinate their children?
I would ask parents who are on the fence to have an in-depth conversation with their healthcare provider. Oftentimes, fears can be allayed. For instance, it has been debunked that vaccines cause autism; they don’t! Many think that vaccinating is a personal decision, but it is also a decision that can affect other people’s children and their health, so it should not be made lightly. Years and years of research have gone into the safety and proper timing of vaccinations, and I am a full believer of vaccinating and vaccinating on time.