Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000. However, measles can still infect people when brought in from foreign visitors or unvaccinated Americans while traveling abroad. The recent outbreak at a popular vacation spot in southern California can have far-reaching effects, though these effects are easily countered with the proper medical precautions.
Measles is a virus that presents with high fever, cough, runny nose, and red/watery eyes. Two to three days after initial symptoms, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth followed by a rash covering the face, neck, body, arms, legs, and feet appearing one to three days later. When the rash develops, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104°F. The fever and rash subside after a few days.
On top of the typical presentations, there are a number of complications that can arise. Ear infections can occur in children with measles and can result in permanent hearing loss. Children are also susceptible to pneumonia and, in rare occasions, encephalitis—a swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions or leave a child deaf or mentally disabled. For every 1000 children who contract measles, on average one or two die from it. Pregnant women with measles can give birth prematurely or have a baby with low-birth-weight. Measles is also highly infectious, spreading to up to 90% of people who are not immune close to an infected person. These kinds of health risks can make it easy for seemingly drastic measures to be taken, such as barring unvaccinated students from attending classes in schools where children have been diagnosed.
In a previous blog post, we detailed the importance of vaccinations. With no treatment, the vaccine for measles is the main line of defense against the virus. For those in need of assistance, our database of free, low-cost, and sliding-scale clinics has information on over 2000 clinics that offer immunization services. If you are in an area affected by the recent measles outbreak or are worried about your contact to those who may have been exposed to the virus, search your zip code to find medical clinics near you that may offer free or low-cost immunizations to combat the risks of measles. Merck also offers a Vaccine Patient Assistance Program for uninsured adults.