Measles is relatively uncommon—there were only 70 cases all of last year in the United States—but a new outbreak in the Midwest proves just how fast the dangerous disease can spread. At least 69 people in Minnesota have recently been diagnosed with measles, mostly children who were not vaccinated against it. And it’s not just kids who are at risk: Adults might also contract the disease if they weren’t vaccinated as a child or didn’t get a second dose of the vaccine.
The lesson here is the measles is still a disease to contend with that hasn’t been eradicated. To stay safe, here’s what you need to know about preventing measles:
Symptoms Don’t Show Up Immediately
Measles, an infection caused by a virus, results in a cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes, sore throat, fever and red, blotchy rash. For the first few days after getting measles, there are no signs or symptoms. And measles is highly contagious (it can be transmitted in the air through coughs and sneezes), which means people are out doing their usual activities and possibly infecting others before they know they’re sick. Measles can lead to pneumonia, ear infections and bronchitis (and in children, it can cause brain damage and death).
The Importance of Being Vaccinated
There are a number of risk factors that can contribute to the spread of measles, such as being unvaccinated, traveling internationally (measles is more common in other countries) or having a vitamin A deficiency. The most important thing you can do is get the measles vaccine. It’s often referred to as MMR (it stands for measles, mumps and rubella), and one dose is about 93 percent effective at protecting against measles. Here’s who needs it:
- Children: The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children get two doses of the MMR vaccine—the first between 12 and 15 months and the second at four to six years old.
- Adults: If you were born in 1956 or earlier, you are likely protected against measles (the vaccine didn’t come out until 1963, so you were exposed naturally to multiple epidemics). If you were born in 1957 or later, you need at least a single dose of the vaccine. A simple blood test can tell if you were vaccinated or not as a child.
- Anyone traveling abroad or who works in schools or health care settings: You need to make sure you’ve had a second dose of the vaccine. If you aren’t sure whether you’ve gotten the second one, the safest thing is to get it anyway (it won’t harm you if you don’t need it).
Measles can be treated in a variety of ways. A post-exposure vaccination can be given to those exposed to the virus within 72-hours and antibiotics and fever reduction medication can also help. If you think you might have been exposed, call your doctor immediately.
For more information on how vaccines can keep you and your family safe, check out these other blogs:
- Test Your Knowledge: How Much Do You Know About Immunizations?
- What You Need to Know About Bacterial Meningitis
- Does Your Child Need a Second Dose of the Flu Vaccine?
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