BATON ROUGE, La. – With the number of reported measles cases reaching the highest point this century, officials with the Louisiana Department of Health are urging people to get vaccinated. The United States is currently experiencing its worst outbreak of measles since the disease was considered eliminated in 2000, and the worst in 25 years. So far, more than 700 people in 22 states have contracted the illness. They were all unvaccinated, according to a press release from the Department of Health.
While no cases have been reported in Louisiana, it is important to protect yourself and loved ones from the disease, said Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health.
“Prevention is key and the best prevention is vaccination,” Billioux said. “We recommend two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and good hygiene. The vaccine is the safest and surest way to ensure that you are protected. Even a single dose of MMR after exposure can prevent or greatly reduce the symptoms of measles.”
Dr. Frank Welch, immunization director for the Louisiana Department of Health, added that misinformation about measles and vaccinations will result in more people becoming ill.
“Many people are spreading misconceptions about vaccine safety, and they are having some success,” Welch said. “Despite the fact that numerous studies have found no evidence to support the notion that vaccines cause autism and other chronic illnesses, a growing number of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children.”
Click here to learn about common misconceptions and the facts.
Measles is extremely rare in the United States as almost all children are vaccinated before they enter school, but measles can still be a dangerous disease. As demonstrated by this current outbreak, the disease can quickly spread throughout a community or region.
“For children, particularly babies and the very young, measles can lead to pneumonia, lifelong brain damage, deafness and sometimes death,” Welch said. “It’s more than just a rash and should be taken seriously.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms of measles generally appear about seven to 14 days after a person is infected.
Measles typically begins with high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. Two or three days after symptoms begin, tiny white spots (Koplik spots) may appear inside the mouth of a patient.
Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. It usually begins as flat red spots that appear on the face at the hairline and spread downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs and feet. Small raised bumps may also appear on top of the flat red spots. The spots may become joined together as they spread from the head to the rest of the body. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104° Fahrenheit.
After a few days, the fever subsides and the rash fades.
The best protection and way to prevent measles is to have had two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as MMR. Two doses are about 97 percent effective against measles. If you are unsure of your vaccination records, check with your primary care provider. Even a single dose of MMR up to 72 hours after exposure to someone with measles can prevent it or greatly reduce symptoms.
It can take anywhere from 10 to 21 days after a person comes in contact with someone with measles for that person to develop symptoms. These typically begin with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes, followed by a rash that typically spreads from the head to the rest of the body. In some cases, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth two to three days after the onset of symptoms. Common complications for measles include ear infections and diarrhea, seen in about 10 percent of patients.
A person is contagious four days before the appearance of rash and the four days after the onset of rash. The highly contagious virus spreads easily by coughing, sneezing or even being in the same room with an infected person.
Because there is no cure, treatment is geared toward alleviating symptoms. Rest, pain and fever reducers, fluids, vitamin A supplements and the use of a humidifier are often recommended.
Health authorities declared measles eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but it is still common in other parts of the world.
In addition to practicing good hand hygiene habits, avoid sharing drinks, food and utensils.
Anyone experiencing symptoms should stay home, isolate as much as possible and contact their primary care physician immediately.
To find where you can get vaccinated, click here.