Dr. Emily Arch breaks down the recent influx in measles cases in the United States, detailing symptoms of the illness and what you can do to prevent it.

Within the last 6 months, over 1,000 individual cases of measles have been reported in the United States – the greatest number of cases in the US in 25 years.  Most of these affected patients were unvaccinated.  While measles is relatively uncommon in the US, it is still found in other areas of the world and given global travel, people will continue to be exposed to measles while abroad or by contacting infected individuals here.

Measles is highly contagious. It is an airborne illness and a single patient infected with measles is likely to infect 9 out of 10 individuals around them if those individuals are not immune.  Signs of measles include an initial fever followed by a cough, runny nose, and conjunctivitis.  The classic measles rash is characterized by small red bumps or flat lesions that begin around the hairline, neck, and around the ears that then, within 48 hours, begin to enlarge and spread down to the trunk and extremities.  The rash starts resolving from the head down.  Unfortunately, patients are contagious for 1-2 days before symptoms appear.

Measles is not just skin deep.  Given that the virus can suppress a patient’s immune system, other infections like bacterial pneumonia can occur.  Inflammation of the brain tissue, called encephalitis, is another severe complication from measles as is blindness from eye involvement.  Even death is possible from complications related to measles infection.  Luckily, in the US we have access to the best possible preventative measure to avoid infection with measles – vaccines!  The MMR vaccine is given twice before the age of 6 years old and has been shown to be highly effective and very safe.

As we continue to monitor this outbreak of measles, we encourage all of our patients to make sure they are up to date on their vaccines, especially before traveling abroad.  If you are at all concerned that you or a loved one are exhibiting signs of measles we encourage you to call us or contact your primary care physician before coming to the office.