Measles, also called rubeola, is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus. At one time, because of the measles vaccine, measles had been completely eliminated from the United States. But unvaccinated people have brought measles back to the U.S. from countries where measles is common. Dr. Green, can you tell us more about this re-emerging disease?
Certainly, Dr. Connolly. Measles is so contagious that 90 percent of unvaccinated people who come in contact with an infected person will get the measles themselves. The virus spreads through tiny air droplets that are released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Because it is so easily spread, vaccination is really the only way to prevent measles outbreaks.
In recent years, some parents have chosen not to get their children vaccinated against the measles because of unfounded fears that the vaccine is associated with autism. However, large studies of thousands of children have found no connection between this or any vaccine and autism, and the study in which a risk of autism from vaccination was first reported has been proven fraudulent.
An itchy rash is often the main symptom of the measles, and it usually starts on the head and spreads to other areas, moving down the body. The rash may appear as flat, discolored areas called macules and as solid, red, raised areas called papules that eventually join together. Other symptoms of the measles can include:
- Bloodshot and inflamed eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Muscle pain
- Runny nose
- Sore throat, and
- Tiny white spots inside the mouth
There is no specific treatment for the measles, but acetaminophen can help reduce fever and muscle pain. If your child has the measles, make sure they get plenty of rest and stay well hydrated. Some children may need vitamin A supplements.