Measles, also known as rubeola, is a potentially serious viral disease. However, it is preventable with a vaccine. For a variety of reasons, some parents choose not to have their children vaccinated and then measles, or any other communicable disease, can become a prevalent health issue.
The measles vaccine, usually given in combination with the mumps and rubella vaccines (MMR), is effective in preventing spread of the disease. The virus is spread through the air and direct contact with an infected person’s secretions.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that a child receive their first dose of MMR between 12 and 15 months of age. The necessary second dose can be given after 4 weeks, but is usually administered before a child starts kindergarten, between the ages of 4 and 6 years. The second dose is needed to secure full immunity.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first symptom of measles is a high fever, usually up to 104° F for 4 to 7 days. Within several days of spiking a fever, the following symptoms develop:
- White spots or Koplik’s spots inside the mouth
- Runny nose
- Red, watery eyes and sometimes conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Generalized, red maculopapular body rash starting around the face and neck and spreading across the entire body within a few hours
The main, most recognizable symptom of measles is the rash. The rash erupts 2 to 4 days after the fever starts and lasts up to 8 days.
Serious complications accompany this illness. The most deadly of which is encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain. Another very serious complication is pneumonia. Some patients suffer a corneal abrasion, which can lead to blindness.
Pregnant women are very susceptible to complications and have an increased risk of miscarriage or premature birth.
Serious complications lead to a 0.1% to 0.2% death rate (which represents that 1 or 2 deaths per every 1,000 cases of measles result in death).
The Vaccine Debate
The anti-vaccine movement in the US is a serious concern since the number of parents deciding not to vaccinate their offspring has doubled since 2007.
The anti-vaccine concerns of parents include:
- Side effects from the chemicals in the vaccine
- A child’s immature immune system that cannot tolerate the deactivated vaccine viruses
- Hype about whether vaccines cause Autism
While parents have a variety of reasons why they choose not to vaccinate their children, the global benefits of vaccines far outweigh the reasons not to vaccinate.
The recent measles outbreak at Disneyland in California has brought the importance of childhood vaccines into the news. About 25% of those who were diagnosed with measles in California and surrounding areas required hospitalization.
Many of the cases in California were unvaccinated children, although six infants who contracted the illness were too young to be vaccinated. According to the CDC, 82% of the infected people were not vaccinated, either due to their young age or a parent’s individual choice not to follow the CDC guidelines for vaccinating.
Measles is not the only disease that can be prevented with vaccination, and it's not the only disease that has recently ramped up the cases because the overall vaccination rate has dropped. In 2010, there was a whooping cough, or pertussis, outbreak for the same reason in the US.
To halt the spread of the disease, according to UNICEF statistics, “herd immunity” needs to occur, which means that in communities with a whooping cough or measles outbreak, 92% of the child population needs to be immunized to protect the community as a whole.
Opting out of vaccines puts the child and those around them, like siblings, parents and friends, at a heightened risk of getting sick.
The End Result
Most communicable childhood diseases are preventable with the proper vaccinations. Parents need to think through the ramifications for their offspring as well as the community in which they live and work.
Serious and sometimes fatal complications can be averted with preventive health care.