Let’s Learn More About Measles!

By: Anna G. Gilley, MD, FAAP

We are excited to bring to you our next installment of our Vaccine Blog Series, written by our very own, Dr. Anna Gilley.

Let’s talk Measles!

Measles is one of the most contagious viruses we encounter. It is also a paramyxovirus, and the only natural host is humans. Measles is spread by direct contact and air droplets (i.e., coughing, sneezing, hand shaking, etc.).

Measles is characterized by:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Coryza (runny nose)
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Koplik spots (tiny white dots inside the mouth)
  • Red, blotchy rash that begins on the face and spreads to the rest of the body

Measles can have serious complications. Children younger than five (5) years of age and older than 20 years are at higher risk. Pregnant women and patients with a compromised immune system, patients with leukemia and HIV, are also at higher risk.

Complications of measles are:

  • Ear infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
  • Hospitalizations (1 out of every 5 patients)
  • Death due to respiratory or neurologic complications (1-3 out of every 1,000 children)
  • Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a rare, but deadly complication that occurs 7 to 10 years after a measles infection
  • Pregnant women are high risk of delivering prematurely

Prior to the measles vaccine, 3-4 million people had measles, and of those, 400-500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed encephalitis.

The measles vaccine was licensed in the United States in 1963, and since then has resulted in 99% decrease in reported cases.

The measles vaccine is a live attenuated virus vaccine that is combined with mumps and rubella (MMR) and sometimes varicella (MMRV). It is recommended that all children receive the vaccine at 12-15 months for the first dose and a second dose at 4-6 years of age. One dose of the vaccine is 93% effective, and 97% effective after the second dose.

Measles was considered eliminated in the United States in the year 2000. Measles still occurs in other parts of the world, and due to travelers, there have been outbreaks here in the US. The largest outbreak since 1992 was in 2019 with 1,292 cases. The majority of the cases were in children that were not vaccinated. The best thing we can do to protect our children and loved ones is to vaccinate.

AAP RedBook. 31st edition. Pgs: 537-550