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What You Need To Know About Measles

You’ve probably heard about recent outbreaks of measles in the United States. So, how dangerous is this viral infection, why does it seem to be resurfacing and what does this mean to you?

Measles is a highly contagious, infectious viral disease. Globally, it is the cause for more than 100,000 deaths annually. Measles was eradicated in the United States in 2000, but due to the increasing number of unvaccinated individuals, it has resurfaced. There have now been several states throughout the U.S. that have recently experienced measles outbreaks.

Because measles is so contagious, anyone who is not vaccinated is at the greatest risk of contracting it. Up to 90% of the people who are not immune and encounter a person infected with the measles will also become infected. This, unfortunately, includes infants who are too young to be vaccinated as well as those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons.

We’ve spoken to our experts Dr. David Moromisato, Dr. Devin Minior, Dr. Michelle Ruha and Dr. Gina Montion for answers to some important questions regarding measles and the MMR vaccine. Below is a brief summary of their responses. To learn more, visit our YouTube page to view the full interviews

Question: What are the symptoms of measles?

Dr. Minior: Symptoms appear 7 to 12 days after exposure but may take up to 21 days to manifest. Symptoms of measles include high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Symptoms that may appear a few days after infection include tiny white spots inside the mouth and/or a rash. It usually begins with flat, red spots on the face at the hairline that spread downward. Complications of the measles include ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, encephalitis--swelling of the brain--and even death. Measles may also cause pregnant women to give birth prematurely or have a low-birth-weight baby.

Q: What is the MMR vaccine? When do children receive the MMR vaccine? How effective is it?

Dr. Montion: MMR is the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. The CDC recommends that first dose of the MMR vaccine is administered at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at four through six years of age. The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. One dose of the vaccine is about 93% effective, and two doses of the vaccine are about 97% effective.

Q: What are the side effects and/or risk of the MMR vaccine?

Dr. Ruha: Possible side effects of the MMR vaccine include a sore arm or leg from the shot, fever, mild rash and temporary pain and stiffness in the joints. There are rare, adverse events that occur with vaccines, but the adverse events that occur with an infectious disease like measles are far greater and more likely.

Q: Can the MMR vaccine cause autism?

Dr. Ruha: Scientists in the United States and other countries have studied the MMR shot and have found no link between the MMR shot and autism.

Q: Does the MMR vaccine cause measles, mumps or rubella?

Dr. Ruha: The MMR vaccine contains live measles, mumps and rubella viruses that have been weakened. These stimulate your immune system, but do not actually cause the diseases in healthy people.

Q: Are vaccines toxic?

Dr. Ruha: Some ingredients in vaccines might look frightening to parents who are not members of the scientific or medical community. What is important for them to know is that vaccines are not toxic. Vaccines may contain small traces of necessary chemicals and preservatives, but doses are safe if administered according to the CDC’s vaccination schedule.

Q: What is herd immunity? Why is it important? What threshold is necessary to maintain herd immunity?

Dr. Moromisato: Herd immunity is the resistance to the spread of contagious diseases within a population. It is important to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like measles and to avoid outbreaks of those diseases. By maintaining herd immunity, the community is able to protect those who are too young to receive vaccination, and those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical reasons (e.g. compromised immune systems, allergies to vaccines). The threshold to maintain herd immunity is a vaccination rate of roughly 95%. Any community below that threshold is at risk of an outbreak.

Q: What should parents do if they are traveling to an outbreak site with an unvaccinated infant?

Dr. Montion: Infants receive some immunity from their mothers at birth but not enough to prevent the contraction of measles if exposed. Discuss with your pediatrician if you have any planned travel internationally or to locations within the United States where a measles outbreak is present. It is recommended that infants get an additional MMR vaccine as young as six months old if any international travel is planned. Your pediatrician will determine if early vaccination is also necessary for travel within the U.S. Children who receive a dose of the vaccine before 12 months of age should still get the recommended routine doses at 12-15 months and four to six years of age.

Q: What are some ways parents can protect their children from measles exposure in the event of an outbreak?

Dr. Moromisato: The best way for parents to protect their children from measles is to vaccinate them in accordance with the CDC vaccination schedule. Other ways for parents to protect their children in the event of a measles outbreak include:

  • Limiting time spent in spaces with recirculating air like buildings and airplanes.
  • Limiting time spent in places where there are large populations of children, such as e.g. daycare, parks, museums, etc.
  • A mask, however, measles can be contracted through the eyes, nose or mouth, so a mask will not fully protect your child in the event of an outbreak.

Q: What should you do if you think you [or your child] has the measles?

Dr. Minior: Contact your primary care provider by phone to let them know that you or your child may have been exposed to measles and/or are experiencing symptoms. They will let you know when it is ok to visit their offices so as to not expose others. If you or your child do not have a health care provider, you may need to be seen at your local hospital emergency room or urgent care center. Please call the location before going in to let them know you or your child may have measles. They will provide you with instructions for how to come in so others are not exposed.

If you have more questions regarding the measles, speak with your primary care provider. To find a provider near you, visit: bannerhealth.com.

Meet our Experts

Dr David Moromisato

David Moromisato, MD, is a pediatric critical care specialist and chief medical officer of Banner Children’s at Desert in Mesa, AZ.

Dr Devin Minior

Devin Minior, MD, is an emergency medicine physician and chief medical officer of Banner Urgent Care. Dr. Minior has three children of his own who are all vaccinated.

Dr AnneMichelle Ruha

Michelle Ruha, MD, is a medical toxicologist at Banner Health. Dr. Ruha has one child of her own who has been vaccinated.

Dr Gina Montion

Gina Montion, MD, is a pediatrician at Banner Health. Dr. Montion has two children of her own who have both been vaccinated.