According to the Centers for Disease Control the U.S. is seeing the largest outbreak of measles in decades. In 2000, the disease was considered eliminated from the country thanks to vaccines, but a combination of frequent international travel and a trend against vaccinating children has led to its resurgence.
"I've seen a lot of measles outbreaks in developing countries where vaccines aren't available. I've stood by children's bedsides and cared for them as they suffered. It is heart-breaking to see these children suffer from a disease that is preventable," said Nadia Qureshi, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Loyola University Health System. "We are seeing a rise in children in the U.S. with measles because international travel has become so common. People bring it back from endemic areas and because it's highly contagious. If your child is not vaccinated they are at-risk."
Measles is caused by a virus and there is no specific treatment for the infection. This extremely contagious infection is spread person-to-person through droplets and can live in the air for up to two hours. Most people don't even know they are already contagious since the characteristic rash doesn't appear until four days after a person has already been spreading the disease. Initial symptoms include:
• Runny nose
• Red, watery eyes
• Feeling run-down
After a few days tiny white spots may appear in the mouth and, after that, a rash on the person's face that runs down the body and an extremely high fever.
"Many people think it's just a virus and my child will get better. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that. This virus can make your child miserable and can lead to serious complications and even death," said Qureshi.
According to Qureshi youngest children are most at-risk, but anyone can develop serious, even deadly complications such as pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhea leading to dehydration and encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain.
"We don't have a specific treatment and can only address the symptoms of the infection. But, we do have a very effective vaccine that can prevent the virus. Children in the U.S. usually get two doses of the vaccine. After the first dose 95 percent are protected and 98 percent protected after the second. It is a safe vaccine that can protect children from a potentially deadly disease," said Qureshi.
According to Qureshi even with a vaccinated community there will be 1-2 percent of the population that is still at-risk. Since the virus was considered eliminated from the U.S. for nearly a decade there are many physicians who have never seen an actual case of measles and may have a hard time diagnosing it.
"Vaccine rates were so good in this country that many physicians have seen it in books or photos, but no live cases. This can make it difficult to diagnose and people can be walking around with the contagious virus not even knowing it. The best way to keep your family safe is to vaccinate," said Qureshi.
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