Measles is extremely rare in the United States due to a successful vaccination campaign in the USA. Nevertheless, outbreaks do happen, usually due to an unvaccinated child, such as a recent case in Chicago, catching the disease in areas of the world where measles is still endemic and returning home to infect other unvaccinated children.
Recently, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Cook County Department of Public Health confirmed that an unvaccinated individual was exposed to the measles virus internationally, and the infectious period for that individual was between 5 October through 13 October 2023.
Let’s take a quick look at measles and the vaccine to prevent it.
All about measles and the vaccine
Measles (also called rubeola, not to be confused with rubella or German measles) is a respiratory disease caused by the Measles morbillivirus. This virus normally grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs.
The virus is spread through respiration (contact with fluids from an infected person’s nose and mouth, either directly or through aerosol transmission), and is highly contagious — 90% of people without immunity sharing living space with an infected person will catch it.
Infected individuals can spread measles up to four days before and four days after a rash appears.
There are no specific treatments for the disease. And there are no miracle preventions, except, of course, the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps, and rubella). The first dose is usually given at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. Teens and adults should also be up to date on their MMR vaccination.
Also, I want to debunk the oft-repeated, and highly inaccurate, claim that vitamin A supplements can cure or prevent measles. It’s essential to supplement with vitamin A to prevent blindness as a result of measles, but it doesn’t reduce mortality or prevent some neurological issues unless there is chronic vitamin A deficiency. That’s why scientists are very supportive of golden rice, which supplements vitamin A through their rice.
According to the CDC, some of the many measles complications are:
- About 30% of measles cases develop one or more complications.
- Pneumonia is the complication that is most often the cause of death in young children.
- Ear infections occur in about 1 in 10 measles cases and permanent loss of hearing can result.
- Diarrhea is reported in about 8% of cases.
- As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia.
- About 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness, and other long-term neurological deficits.
- A measles infection can result in short- and long-term immune system dysfunction which can leave the child susceptible to other diseases early in life (which is in direct opposition to claims by anti-vaccine activists that it helps “boost” the immune system).
- About 1-2 children, out of 1000 who contract measles, may develop subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a rare chronic, progressive encephalitis that affects primarily children and young adults– it is caused by a persistent infection of the measles virus. The disease starts with measles infection, usually before the age of 2 years, followed by approximately 6-15 asymptomatic years. Some researchers think the asymptomatic period is around 5-8 years after the initial disease. The disease gradually progresses with psychological and neurological deterioration, including personality changes, seizures, and coma. It is always ultimately fatal.
- And sadly, for every 1,000 children who get measles, 1 or 2 will die from it.
I’m not here for fear-mongering – but real science tells us that measles is a dangerous, debilitating disease that has both short and long-term consequences.
Measles and Chicago
I just want to repeat that this is just one case, and there’s no indication that his spread beyond that. However, it is important to note that many outbreaks and epidemics can start with one case. And because measles is so infectious, and there are large groups of unvaccinated children (either because parents refuse to get the vaccine or because the baby is under the age of 12 months), there is a high risk that one measles case can develop into a local outbreak.
Once the first case was identified, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Cook County Department of Public Health moved quickly to isolate that individual and determine if that child had contact with any other unvaccinated children.
This was the first case of measles in Chicago since 2019, which shows how well vaccines have made measles such a rarity in the USA. The CDC has reported only 29 cases of measles in 16 locations this year. But the same cannot be said for other countries like India and Yemen.
Although it will take a few weeks before we know if this one case spread to any other children, for the time being, it appears that the health departments did their public health duties to protect children from the disease.
If it isn’t clear, please make sure your children are up-to-date with their MMR vaccine, especially if you travel with children to countries with endemic measles to protect your children and the children here in the USA.
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