You may be hearing a lot about measles lately. And all of this news on TV, social media, Internet, newspapers and magazines may leave you wondering what you as a parent really need to know about this disease. The CDC has put together a list of the most important facts about measles for parents like you.

  1. Measles can be serious. Some people think of measles as just a little rash and fever that clears up in a few days, but measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than 5 years of age. There is no way to tell in advance the severity of the symptoms your child will experience.
  • About 1 in 4 people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized
  • 1 out of every 1,000 people with measles will develop brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage
  • 1 or 2 out of 1,000 people with measles will die, even with the best care

Some of the more common measles symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  1. Measles is very contagious. Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is so contagious that if one person has it, 9 out of 10 people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected. Your child can get measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, even up to two hours after that person has left. An infected person can spread measles to others even before knowing he/she has the disease—from four days before developing the measles rash through four days afterward.
  2. Your child can still get measles in the United States. Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 thanks to a highly effective vaccination program. Eliminated means that the disease is no longer constantly present in this country. However, measles is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Worldwide, 19 cases of measles per 1 million persons are reported each year and 89,780 people, mostly children, die from the disease. Even if your family does not travel internationally, you could come into contact with measles anywhere in your community. Every year, measles is brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers (Americans or foreign visitors) who get measles while they are in other countries. Anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk.
  3. You have the power to protect your child against measles with a safe and effective vaccine. The best protection against measles is measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The MMR vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles. Your child needs two doses of MMR vaccine for best protection:
  • The first dose at 12 through 15 months of age
  • The second dose 4 through 6 years of age

If your family is traveling overseas, the vaccine recommendations are a little different:

  • If your baby is 6 through 11 months old, he or she should receive 1 dose of MMR vaccine before leaving.
  • If your child is 12 months of age or older, he or she will need 2 doses of MMR vaccine (separated by at least 28 days) before departure.

Measles starts with fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat. It is followed by a rash that spreads over the whole body. Measles is highly contagious and spreads through coughing and sneezing.

The majority of people in the US who got measles were unvaccinated.

Measles is still common in many parts of the world including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa.

Travelers with measles continue to bring the disease into the US.

If you have been exposed to measles, people who have been vaccinated or have had the measles are less likely to become ill. Most people who received at least one MMR (measles, mumps, rubella vaccine) at one year old or later will not be at high risk. If you know your vaccination history, this is helpful. If you have shown immunity by having “titers” done through a blood test, you will be ok. If you were born in the US before 1957, you will be ok.

If you do not know your status, and have been exposed, you should receive the MMR vaccine within three days of exposure if you are six months old or older.

If you want to learn more, visit the CDC page on Measles.

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