An Unwelcome Visitor From the Past

 Keenan Blog

An Unwelcome Visitor From the Past

August 08, 2019

Measles (or rubeola) is a childhood disease that, until recently, was largely a concern of the past. Measles is now on the rise because the population of kids not being vaccinated has increased. The United States is now encountering an outbreak of the disease not seen for more than 27 years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,095 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 28 states from January 1 to June 27 of this year. This figure represents the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

Measles is still prevalent in many other parts of the world. Unvaccinated travelers outside the U.S. can be exposed, and visitors from other regions can bring to our shores. The disease is so contagious that over 90 percent of unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to the virus will develop it.

So, regardless of your position on vaccination, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the disease, its symptoms, and what to do if you think you or your child has become infected.

Some Facts About Measles

Here are some basic points on what to know about measles:

  • Measles is transmitted via moisture from breathing, sneezing or coughing and can remain in the air for two hours, even after an infected person has left the area.
  • Although usually mild, measles can have severe complications for those with weakened immune systems. Complications range from ear infections to pneumonia or even inflammation of the heart, deafness and brain damage.
  • The higher number of unvaccinated children exposes other people to the disease who may be unable to receive immunization or whose immune systems have been compromised.
  • While in some cases it simply causes a great deal of discomfort, measles can also be deadly. The CDC says 1 to 3 cases out of 1,000 are fatal.
  • There are no antiviral medications for measles; however, the symptoms can be treated with the appropriate measures.

The typical symptoms of measles include a red and spotted rash, fever, cough, red eyes and runny nose. There are three stages in the progression of the disease: an incubation period of about ten days; a prodromal period where all the symptoms except the rash appear; then the rash. The fever accompanying measles can run as high as 104-105 degrees. The contagious period for measles runs from four days before the rash starts until approximately four days after it appears.

Vaccination Guidelines

The measles vaccine uses a weakened form of the virus, in a very small, safe amount. The body’s immune system then learns to recognize and attack it later in life. For children with a normal immune system, it will not actually cause the disease.

Vaccination results in lasting protection for 95% of children who get one dose and 99% who get the second dose. It’s typically administered when a child is between 12 and 15 months old and again at 4 to 6 years of age. In cases where potential exposure to the disease may be high, the second dose can be administered as quickly as one month after the first one. Even infants between 6 and 12 months old can receive a first dose, but two more are recommended thereafter.

There are concerns among the public about the potential side effects of measles vaccination. However, it is quite safe. Some kids, about 10%, may have a fever for several days. Others, less than 10%, may develop a rash for a few hours or a couple of days. In very rare situations, kids with a predisposition may experience fever-induced seizures. Fortunately, scientific research clearly shows that vaccination does not lead to autism or other similar conditions.

For people who have not been vaccinated, an immune serum globulin can be used if it’s administered within five to six days of exposure. However, while this treatment can be almost 100% effective, it’s a temporary fix that generally lasts for no more than a couple months.

Be Prepared

Now that measles is on the rise, it’s important to remain aware. Speaking with your family doctor is an important first step. Be aware of any cases reported in your locale or in areas where you plan to travel. And, of course, watch out for symptoms if your children have not received a vaccination. Hopefully, the disease will retreat into the shadows once again.


About Cara Obradovitz, B.S, MPH
Cara is a Health Management Specialist at Keenan, providing clients with wellness consulting services that increase employee engagement in health programs. Through her more than 10 years of experience in a variety of work settings, is well versed in the challenges and solutions for successful engagement of employees in wellness and condition management programs. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo and a Master of Public Health degree from San Jose State University.Additionally, Cara has earned professional certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine in exercise physiology (ACSM EP-C) and the Chapman Institute in wellness program coordination (CWPC).