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Measles in Kids: Symptoms & Prevention

The recent measles outbreak has many parents and caregivers concerned. Dr. Ken Polin, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Primary Care – Town & Country Pediatrics, shares what you need to know about this infectious disease.

What Is Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious respiratory infection virus that can be spread from direct contact, including sneezing and coughing through the air. This disease can causes a rash, fever, cough, runny nose and pink eye. Measles (also called rubeola) is caused by a virus, so there's no specific medical treatment for it. Complications that can accompany measles are pneumonia (infection in the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and even death.

Measles can affect children and adults of all ages, most specifically those younger than 5 years old and those older than 20 years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of July 2019, there have been 1,123 reported cases of measles this year alone, and it’s continuing to grow. This is a major jump from the 372 cases reported last year and the 120 cases the year before. “The primary means of control should be prevention before any exposure takes place with the use of immunizations. Immunization programs, when fully implemented, have shown to be very effective,” said Ken Polin, MD.

The Cause of Measles in Children

“The measles virus is highly contagious and can be spread simply by being around an infected person who is coughing and sneezing,” said Dr. Polin. He shares that areas around the world and in the U.S. where immunizations are not common practice give the disease an opportunity to spread to other people and places. “Put simply we know vaccines work. That’s why it’s important to immunize your child. When individuals choose not to, they put others at risk and that’s when we see a resurgence in diseases that have for the most part been eradicated because of vaccines.”

How to Prevent Measles

The best way to prevent measles is to ensure your child is immunized. The first dose of measles vaccine is given at 12 months of age with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. A second dose is given around the ages of 4 and 6 years. Dr. Polin said, “Because there is no specific treatment, it’s even more crucial to be vaccinated.” Speak to your doctor about vaccines to determine the best schedule for your family.

Symptoms of Measles

The most recognizable symptom of measles is the rash, which starts on the face and travels down the rest of the body as the disease progresses. Other symptoms of measles include:

  • High fever – can spike above 104 degrees
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Koplik spots (white spots inside the mouth)

How Do I Treat Measles?

Beause measles is caused by a virus, there is specific treatment or way to manage its symptoms. Complications that can accompany measles are pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). There is no way to predict the severity of the symptoms. Sometimes severe symptoms may result in hospitalizations with intensive support.

If you have any questions about the vaccination process or measles itself, don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary doctor.

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