Measles: what you need to know

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There was a time when just about everybody got the measles as a child. The fast-spreading virus infected millions of people every year in the United States, killing 400 to 500 annually. Today, thanks to vaccines, the illness is very rare in the United States, but outbreaks in recent years are causing alarm.

In 2019, 79 cases of the measles have been reported in 10 states in January alone. Although most people have protection against the disease, it has the potential to spread within pockets of unvaccinated individuals.

Here are a few things you should know about measles:

Hasn’t measles been eliminated?

The United States declared measles eliminated from the country in 2000, but that does not mean people cannot still catch this disease. While the United States has a highly effective vaccination program for measles, some countries do not. So, when people travel to countries that have measles outbreaks, they can bring the illness back with them. It can also spread from there among people who have not been vaccinated.

Who is at risk?

Young children who have not been vaccinated against measles have the highest chance of getting it. They also have a higher risk of serious complications from measles. Pregnant women who have not been vaccinated also have an elevated risk.

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“Young children and older adults who have not been vaccinated against measles have a higher risk of serious complications or death,” says Sarah Hilton, a registered nurse. “If you don’t know if you have been vaccinated against the disease, talk to your doctor about protecting yourself from measles.”

Can adults get measles?

Measles is more common among children because most adults have been vaccinated. However, it is still possible for adults to get measles. A very small number of vaccinated people, about three in 100, may still get sick if exposed to measles. Anyone born before 1957 is considered to be immune, as it is presumed they were infected as children. While a vaccine was available in the 1960s, anybody who received that vaccine should be revaccinated, because it was not effective. Officials recommend that anyone who got a vaccine before 1968 should get a new vaccine unless they have documentation that they received a live measles vaccine.

What complications can measles cause?

Measles carries the risk of serious complications that can have lifelong effects or even be fatal. These complications include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia, as well as severe complications such as infection of the brain, seizures or death. Children under the age of 5 and adults over age 20 have the highest risk of suffering serious complications.

Is the measles vaccine safe?

The vaccine is very safe and effective, though it can have some side effects. Most commonly, people may experience a sore arm, fever, mild rash and temporary stiffness in the joints. About four children in 10,000 will have a febrile seizure, which is a seizure brought on by a fever. Some people have had concerns that the vaccine could cause autism, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other experts agree that it does not.

Related link: Easy ways to boost your immune system

Measles is a serious, and sometimes deadly illness, that can be prevented with a very effective vaccine. If you haven’t been vaccinated, or you aren’t sure whether you got the right vaccine as a child, visit your doctor and find out how to protect yourself and keep this disease a thing of the past.

This article was originally published by the Daily Herald.

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