Doc Talk: Measles outbreak and what parents can do to protect their children

In our weekly feature, 'Doc Talk', pediatric emergency doctor, Clint Pollack from Valley Children's Hospital talks about the recent outbreak of Measles and what parents can do to treat it.

Doctor Pollack says Measles is a very contagious virus that causes cold symptoms, high fever, and rash.

He says about 90 percent of unimmunized people will get measles after being exposed.

Some of the symptoms to look out for are:

-Tiredness, loss of appetite, coryza (lots of runny nose), and red eyes are also common.
-Koplik spots: Small white spots on the inside of the cheeks are a classic sign of measles.
-Red bumpy rash often starts on the face and spreads to the whole body.

Dr. Pollack says common complications include diarrhea and ear infection.

He says more serious complications include immune suppression, pneumonia, encephalitis (brain inflammation), and encephalomyelitis (inflammation and breakdown of the brain and spinal cord). These are less common but can be fatal.

According to Dr. Pollack, Pneumonia occurs in about six percent of children with measles, especially children less than 5 years old.

While encephalitis occurs in about 1/1000 cases. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, neck pain, lethargy, seizure, and coma.

Dr. Pollack says patients at highest risk of complications include young children, elderly adults, pregnant women, immunocompromised patients, and malnourished people.

Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and symptoms and blood tests.

There is no cure for measles. Treatment is supportive care: fever medicine, liquids, and treatment of complications.

The Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccination is extremely important to protect against measles.

The first dose is given at 12-15 months and a second dose at 4-6 years-old.

The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective.

Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of these, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles.

From January 1 to March 14, 2019, 268 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 15 states, including California.

Measles outbreaks in the United States are caused by:
-Travelers who get measles abroad and bring it into the U.S. and/or
-Further spread of measles in U.S. communities with pockets of unvaccinated people.
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