"We are seeing these new 'pockets' or clusters of decreased vaccination, which are fueling outbreaks. Measles is very contagious; it just takes a few people and then it spreads like wildfire."
-Ronald Samuels, MD, MPH, Boston Children's Hospital Division of General Pediatrics
Measles (rubeola): what parents need to know
For years, measles has been rare in the United States, thanks to immunization. But recently, that has changed. In 2011, we’ve seen lots of outbreaks, mostly started by unimmunized people going to or coming from countries that have lots of measles—and then giving the infection to unimmunized people here. In Massachusetts we have had 24 cases of measles this year—19 since May!
What is measles?
Measles, also called rubeola, is a very contagious respiratory illness.
What causes it?
Measles is caused by a virus. It is spread through the air when people with the illness cough, sneeze or simply breathe near someone else.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of measles typically include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- red eyes
- body aches
Sometimes, people with measles get white spots in their mouth called Koplik spots. The spots in the mouth and rash usually start a few days after the illness has begun, so at the beginning it can be hard to tell measles from the common cold or flu.
What can happen if you get measles?
Most people who get the measles recover completely, but there can be complications. Possible complications include:
or even death.
If a pregnant woman gets the measles, it can lead to miscarriage or premature birth.
Is there a treatment for measles?
There is no treatment that can get rid of the measles virus, but there are treatments to make them more comfortable and help support them through the illness.
What can I do to prevent measles?
The measles vaccine (as part of the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine) is safe and effective.
- Two doses are recommended for people 12 months and older, at least 28 days apart.
- Infants between 6 and 12 months traveling to areas of the world with lots of measles can be given a dose before they travel—parents should check with their doctor.
- Adults should be sure they are fully immunized; anyone with any questions about their immunizations or their child’s immunizations should check with their doctor.
To prevent not just measles but lots of other infections, it’s always a good idea to wash your (and your child's) hands often. Carry hand sanitizer with you, and use it regularly.
What should I do if I think someone in my family has the measles?
Because measles is so contagious, you should call your health care provider for advice before you head to the office or emergency room.
If you do go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, immediately let the staff know that you are worried about measles so that they can put precautions into place.
How can I find out more?
Visit the CDC’s Measles website for lots of useful information, including photographs of people with measles and information on outbreaks and vaccination.
How Boston Children's Hospital approaches measles
In addition to treating children with measles, Boston Children's Hospital's Informatics Program created HealthMap, an online resource and smart phone app that helps track the spread of contagious diseases, including measles, in real time.