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Preventing the Spread of Measles

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Preventing the Spread of Measles

Madison, Wisconsin - Recently, there was a reported case of measles in the Milwaukee area. While there are typically fewer than 200 reported cases in the U.S. each year, recently there has been a gradual increase in the number of cases.

"Measles is a preventable disease. We can't emphasize enough the importance of immunizations in helping to prevent the spread of infection," says James Conway, MD, a UW Health expert in pediatric infectious disease. 

Measles is highly contagious and spread from person to person through the air or by direct contact with saliva or infected droplets. There is no specific treatment, and while most individuals will recover, complications from the disease can be life threatening.

Symptoms and Treatment of Measles

Typically, early symptoms of measles will begin within 7-12 days of being exposed to an infected person. These symptoms can include a fever that increases in a stepwise fashion, peaking as high as 103-105 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by cough, runny nose, and/or redness and irritation of the eyes (also called conjunctivitis, or 'pink eye').

Usually 3-5 days after the first signs of being sick, a rash will start around the hairline and then spread to the face, neck and gradually move down the body. It may be itchy. Tiny white spots inside the mouth, called Koplik's spots, will appear either shortly before or after the rash begins. Other symptoms may include scaly patches on the areas affected by the rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea (especially in infants) and swollen lymph nodes.

If measles is suspected, blood samples and throat swabs may be taken to test for the disease.

What to Do if You Suspect Measles

Anyone who suspects they or their children may have been exposed to measles, or are showing symptoms, should call their primary care physician.

Preventing Measles

As with any virus, good personal hygiene is important to help prevent the spread of disease, including washing hands regularly, disposing of used tissues, and not sharing eating utensils or drinks. The best prevention, however, is vaccination.

Children typically receive their first dose of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine on or after their first birthday, with the second dose given at 4-6 years of age.

Adults born before 1957, or who have already received an MMR vaccination likely do not need to be vaccinated again. Individuals who have not received their vaccinations or are unsure, or those who travel internationally, should speak with their primary care physician.

"People mistakenly think because the disease is so rare, it's not necessary to be immunized," says Conway. "But, individuals who travel internationally or visit from a foreign country can unknowingly bring measles into the U.S. It is important to protect yourself and your community by staying current on your vaccinations."

Date Published: 09/09/2011

News tag(s):  kidsjames h conway