Michigan Association of Health Plans

Understanding Measles: A Guide for Parents by Dr. Charles Bloom

This article appeared in the blog from HAP. Read more here

As we navigate a recent uptick in measles cases in Michigan, it’s crucial for parents and guardians to understand the risks and preventive measures associated with this highly contagious disease. Measles is not just a simple rash and fever—it can lead to serious complications, especially in young children. This guide incorporates insights from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

1. Measles Can Be Serious

Often underestimated, measles is more than just a mild illness. It can cause severe health issues, particularly in children under 5 years of age. Here are some critical facts every parent should know:

  • Hospitalization: About 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who contract measles will require hospitalization.
  • Severe Complications: Measles can cause brain swelling (encephalitis), which may lead to brain damage. Out of every 1,000 people who get measles, one will develop this severe complication.
  • Fatal Outcomes: Despite the best medical care, 1 to 3 out of every 1,000 children who contract measles will die from the disease.

Symptoms to Watch For:

  • High fever, potentially spiking above 104° F
  • Cough and runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Rash that appears 3-5 days after the initial symptoms

2. Measles Is Extremely Contagious

Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It’s so contagious that 90% of unprotected individuals around an infected person will also become infected. An important point to note:

  • Persistence in Environment: The measles virus can live up to two hours in an airspace where the infected person was present.

3. Measles Risk in the U.S.

  • Though eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, measles cases still occur, mainly through international travel. Unvaccinated travelers can bring measles into the U.S., posing a risk to those who are not vaccinated. Here’s what you need to know:
  • Community Exposure: Your child does not need to travel internationally to be at risk; any exposure to international travelers or in community settings can lead to infection.

4. Vaccination Is Key

  • The most effective way to protect your child from measles is through vaccination:
  • MMR Vaccine: The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe and highly effective, offering protection against all strains of measles.
  • First Dose: Recommended at 12 through 15 months of age.
  • Second Dose: Recommended at 4 through 6 years of age.

For families planning to travel overseas, additional precautions are advised:

  • Infants 6 to 11 months old should receive one dose of MMR vaccine before traveling.
  • Children 12 months and older need two doses of MMR vaccine, separated by at least 28 days, before international travel.

What can Parents do?

The recent decline in vaccination rates is concerning and has contributed to the increased risk of measles outbreaks. As parents, the power to protect your children and your community lies in your decision to vaccinate.

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