According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are 12 reported cases of measles here in San Diego this past month. In addition, 70 other children are confined to their homes and are being monitored.
Measles (rubeloa) is a highly contagious virus that causes one of the most deadly childhood illnesses in the world. In 2006, an estimated 242,000 children died from measles worldwide. It is preventable with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine that almost all children get around their first birthday and again at 5 years old.
Transmission of the measles virus is person to person by respiratory droplets, similar to common cold viruses. The virus can live for hours on surfaces. Once a person is exposed, it can take 1-2 weeks before symptoms begin.
The symptoms of measles include high fever, cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). It has a unique rash that begins 2-4 days after the fever and persists for up to a week. The rash is bright red; it begins on the face and proceeds down the trunk, arms, and legs over 2-3 days. The rash then fades in the same order starting from the head down.
A rash also develops inside the mouth; it is characterized by bright red spots with blue or white centers inside the cheeks, near the lower molars.
The virus is highly contagious and can be transmitted from 4 days before the rash to 4 days after the rash.
Complications from measles include ear infections, pneumonia, blood disorders, swelling of the brain, called encephalitis, and death. Infections in pregnant women can result in severe birth defects or miscarriage.
There is no treatment for measles; antibacterials have no effect because it is a virus. Bed rest and fluids are recommended. It is also widely recommended that children who are hospitalized with measles be treated with high does of vitamin A. There is evidence to suggest that vitamin A minimizes eye complications and may improve survival.
The Institute of Medicine along with the National Academy of Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all concluded that there is no link between autism and the measles (MMR) vaccine. In fact, measles vaccine is one of the most cost effective public health interventions in the world. It has the potential to save thousands of lives for less than a dollar per vaccine.
Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control