Measles is a Highly Contagious Viral Infection of the Respiratory Tract

Cacti on a golf course in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Cacti on a golf course in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Measles is making bad news. It seems to have started in Disneyland. A place where kids go for fun. How ironic and sad. And it has spread to several states in the U.S.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, 50 people from six states were reported to have had measles in the first two weeks of this month. Most of these cases are part of a large, ongoing outbreak linked to Disneyland in California.

According to CBS news (January 22, 2015), at least 75 people have now been infected with measles virus. The California public health officials are urging those who haven’t been vaccinated against the disease, including children too young to be immunized, to avoid Disney theme parks.

Age of people infected ranges from seven months to 70 years old, including five Disneyland workers.

Measles spreads through the air through coughing and sneezing. It starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat, and is followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. About three out of 10 people who get measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea. Complications are more common in adults and young children.

Alberta had a measles outbreak last year. On April 29, 2014, Alberta Health Services declared a measles outbreak in the Calgary, Central and Edmonton Zones of Alberta Health Services (AHS). By July, AHS declared the outbreak to be over.

The best way to prevent measles is to have Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) Vaccine. All health care workers should be vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine. Health care workers are at greater risk of measles infection than the general population because they provide care for ill individuals. A recent review concluded that health care workers were 13 to 19 times more likely to develop measles than other adults.

MMR vaccine is highly effective at preventing measles. One dose is 85-95 per cent effective and the effectiveness of two doses approaches 100 per cent. Two doses provide long-lasting immunity. The vaccines are very safe.

Measles was eradicated by year 2000 because of vaccination. But the virus has made a comeback in recent years, in part because of people obtaining “personal belief exemptions” from rules that say children must get their shots to enroll in school. Others still believe in now-discredited research linking the measles vaccine to autism.

Who started the current outbreak? Should we blame people who refuse to get vaccinated because they believe it is harmful to their children? Apparently, a small number of those stricken had been fully vaccinated. It is also reported the outbreak was triggered by a measles-stricken visitor to one of the Disney parks who brought the virus from abroad last month.

Coughing and sneezing spreads the highly contagious virus. Deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. Complications are more common in children under the age of five or adults over the age of 20.

There is no specific antiviral treatment. Mostly symptomatic treatment is provided for symptoms and complications. The measles vaccine has been in use for 50 years. It is safe, effective and inexpensive. It costs approximately one U.S. dollar to immunize a child against measles. And it saves lives.

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