This week in San Diego, infectious disease experts met and discussed the risk of a measles outbreak in the United States. Analysis of national vaccination rates shows that 12.5% of children have not received adequate measles vaccination. Some of these are children who have terminal illnesses such as cancer, and can’t receive any secondary treatments such as vaccinations.
However, many children do not receive the vaccination because their parents opt out.
How is Measles Spread?
Measles is a virus that lives in the lungs. It is highly infectious because it is spread through the air. It’s possible to come into contact with someone who has an active measles infection without knowing it.
A person with an active measles infection is riding in an elevator. He sneezes 3 times during the ride, and although he attempts to cover his mouth, measles virus immediately enters the enclosed air space. He gets off on his floor, the elevator goes up one more floor and a woman with an unvaccinated child get on and ride the elevator down for about a minute.
During that entire ride, the child is breathing in the virus. The virus immediately infects the child’s lungs and begins to replicate. This child develops an active measles infection and infects every other unvaccinated child s/he comes into contact with. This includes newborns, and children with serious illnesses going through chemotherapy or other treatments, who are highly vulnerable.
Who is at Greatest Risk
Most Americans are immune to measles because they received adequate vaccination. This means infants and babies who have not yet been vaccinated, and unvaccinated children, are at the highest risk of contracting this deadly disease. The death risk for any child who can’t receive the vaccination due to age or sickness is concerning. Their systems are the most vulnerable and may not have the strength to combat the illness.
The virus can cause serious birth defects in pregnant women who become infected.
Signs and Symptoms
Measles virus does not show any symptoms for the first 10-14 days. When the viral incubation is over, it presents like any other viral infection with fever, cough, and malaise. In addition, a red rash spreads over the body. The virus is often spread to others before it is diagnosed as measles.
It’s important to discuss measles vaccination with the pediatrician. Understanding the risks of not being vaccinated for both one’s own child and vulnerable children in the community is essential. Not getting one’s child vaccinated can be deadly.
The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.
Undervaccination leaves nearly 9 million vulnerable to contagious disease, Robert Bednarczyk et al., presented October 2015 at IDWeek 2015, San Diego, CA.
Photo courtesy of CDC/ Molly Kurnit, M.P.H.