Expert: Vaccination prevents measles

Measles is back in the news again — in a big way.

From Jan. 1 to May 3, there were 764 individual cases reported in 23 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

And, as of May 9, Florida had two reported cases, according to the Florida Department of Health.

It’s important to stay aware, said Suzanne Chandler, system director of Infection Prevention and Control for Baycare Health System.

Suzanne Chandler is system director of Infection Prevention and Control for Baycare Health System.

Media coverage of new outbreaks has ramped up concerns, she said.

“With the hype of the media, we’re getting a lot of calls, even from providers. So, it’s not only just the public. It’s even the health care worker,” she said.

And, because Florida is such a big tourist state — attracting people from so many places, an outbreak could occur potentially anytime, she said.

“So, we do need to be on the alert. But, there’s no need to panic,” she said.

The best protection against the measles is vaccination, she added.

Health care providers and county health departments offer the MMR vaccine, which prevents measles, mumps and rubella.

“If you had the (vaccination) series as a child, typically, you should be protected,” Chandler said. For those who are unsure of that protection, there is a blood test that can be done to determine the level of protection. In some cases, a new vaccination may be needed.

It’s a highly contagious disease and it spreads via the air. People who have not been vaccinated are highly likely to get it.

The important thing to remember is that someone with measles is highly contagious for four days before the rash develops and four days after it, she said.

Symptoms of measles typically begin as an upper respiratory type of infection, including a runny nose.

Often, there will be conjunctivitis-type symptoms, where the eyes are running.

A cough and fever are common, and occasionally there will be little white spots inside of the mouth — but not everyone gets those.

“The rash will come later. The rash usually starts at the top and works its way down, the head and face and neck,” Chandler said. “It covers the body.”

People sometimes mistake another respiratory virus for the measles, she said.

“Honestly, there’s a lot of respiratory viruses out there and a lot of them do cause rashes,” she said.

As a result, “a lot of these people have flocked into their pediatricians or their doctor’s offices. It turns out not to be measles, but people are still concerned because they’ve had similar symptoms,” she said.

If a parent with more than one child discovers that one of the children has a case of the measles, the other children should be vaccinated and kept away from where the ill child is staying, she said.

Keep the healthy children out of the house, she advised.

Measles is so contagious that it can travel through air vents, she explained.

If a patient suspected of having measles arrives at the hospital, the patient is placed in a negative pressure room —an isolation technique used in hospitals to avoid cross-contamination.

Those caring for the patient would wear special masks, she added.

If a parent suspects their child has measles, they should get in touch with medical staff before taking them into a doctor’s office or emergency room — and to be sure the child has a mask on before entering the facility.

Without the mask, “everybody gets exposed because it’s so highly contagious. Everybody that’s in that emergency room waiting could potentially be exposed,” Chandler said.

Complications from measles can include ear infections, and in rare instances, deafness, she said.

“Younger children can get pneumonia and croup, which also are viral in nature,” she said.

Extreme complications would be encephalitis or blindness, she added.

“The fact that we have a fair number of unvaccinated people in the U.S. right now is why we are seeing the measles outbreak,” Chandler said. “We went for 25 years; it was gone. We just didn’t see it at all. Now, it’s back again. In that time period, a lot of folks chose not to vaccinate their children for various reasons.”

Symptoms of measles
These symptoms appear typically 7 days to 14 days after infection:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Within three days to five days a rash often develops on the face and neck, and can spread to the rest of the body.

What to do if you think you or a loved one has measles?
First, call your health care provider or facility, or county health department and report your concerns. Do not go directly to a health care provider’s office or facility, or the county health department.

A health care provider or a county health department official will give you instructions on getting seen in a timely manner, and how you can avoid exposing other people to measles.

Source: Florida Department of Health

Published May 15, 2019

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