Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat of an infected individual. It is spread to others via coughing or sneezing. To make matters even more complicated, an infected individual can unknowingly spread the virus by these respiratory droplets for up to four days before the onset of the classic-appearing measles rash characterized by small red bumps that start on the face and spread to the rest of the body. Other signs and symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, tiny white spots inside the mouth, and red, watery eyes. For many, the measles virus symptoms are self-limiting. However, a minority of those infected can develop life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia (infection in the lungs) or encephalitis (swelling of the brain).
How did this disease, once eradicated from the United States, create a resurgence? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported measles to be officially eradicated from the United States in 2000. There has been sporadic outbreaks up until this point in time, however the current outbreak is taking the cake. Measles is preventable by vaccination. Let's discuss how vaccinations work and explain the benefits of herd immunity to better understand how we can stay protected during the current measles outbreak.
Vaccines serve as stimuli to our powerful and wieldy immune system. Vaccines are composed of a non-active (dead) or attenuated (live, but very small) version of a disease. Vaccines, in these formulations, are able to stimulate our immune system to create protective antibodies that will stick around and be ready to fight off the disease at a later date, if ever exposed. The greater number of people that are vaccinated creates an even better effect called herd immunity. With herd immunity, individuals who cannot receive a vaccine due to age or medical condition are protected by the community around them who are vaccinated. Transmission of the infectious disease is stunted due to the large number of vaccinated individuals who are able to fight the disease with their protective antibodies, courtesy of the vaccine.
Outbreaks, such as the current measles upsurge, happen when the infectious disease is allowed to flourish among a group of unvaccinated individuals. Often times, the measles virus is brought to the United States from another country wherein the disease is widespread. So what can you do to help prevent the spread of the measles outbreak? Early identification and reporting of measles symptoms to a healthcare practitioner and most importantly, ensure you are properly vaccinated, especially if traveling out of the country. Per the CDC, an individual may consider themselves immune or protected from measles if they have at least one of the following:
- Written documentation of adequate vaccination
- One or more doses of measles-containing vaccine administered on or after the first birthday for preschool-age children and non-high risk adults
- Two doses of measles containing vaccine for school-age children and high risk adults (including but not limited to college students, healthcare personnel, and international travelers)
- Laboratory evidence of immunity or confirmation of measles by looking at the volume of antibody fighters present
- Birth before 1957
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.