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What you need to know about measles

Although eliminated in the United States in 2000, the measles virus continues to be imported back in the country and is causing public health officials to be on the alert.

Measles is highly contagious; the best way to protect yourself and your family is to be vaccinated. Measles symptoms are:

  • Fever—which can become very high
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Red, watery eyes (similar to pink eye)
  • Feeling run down and achy
  • A rash that starts at the hairline and then – over about three days – travels all the way down to the feet
  • Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers inside the mouth (Koplik’s spots)

“Measles is so contagious that if someone has it, 90% of the people close to that person who aren’t immune will be infected,” said Daniel Bronson-Lowe, PhD, infection preventionist at Carle. “The virus can be spread as soon as someone starts showing symptoms and it stays in the air up to two hours after the infected person leaves a room.”

Severe cases of measles can cause pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage, and death. Historically, about 2 of every 1,000 children with measles in the U.S. died from the disease.

The best protection against measles is staying up to date with immunizations. “Children should get vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella when they are 12 to 15 months old. They should get a second vaccination between 4 and 6 years of age,” Bronson-Lowe explained. “Immunizations not only protect that one person from contracting measles, that then breaks the cycle of transmission and prevents the disease from being spread to others,” Bronson-Lowe said.