My husband and I just returned from a phenomenal trip to Mexico celebrating one year of parenthood – we survived! As much as we missed our baby girl, it was so great to get away together. We returned feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. As we made our way through customs after landing in Houston, I began to notice how many nationalities surrounded us. At a large international airport (like the one here), it’s not unusual to see a great number of countries represented as everyone debarks their planes and enters the U.S.
The lines were long, and as we slowly snaked along, something caught my eye. It was two large signs displayed very prominently. One asked “Do you know how to recognize measles?” and the other read “Get vaccinated against measles.” Trying my best not to be obvious, I began casually looking around to see if any travelers around me had a suspicious rash on their neck. (Yikes!) Simultaneously, I felt relief wash over me – I was so happy that my daughter wasn’t with us. Even though she received her MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) a few weeks ago, I still wouldn’t want her to be exposed if someone in line had measles. As unlikely as that scenario probably was, the protective mother in me came out again.
Measles was not something I thought about much, until this past year. I thought it was a disease from the “olden days” that had pretty much been wiped out, thanks to vaccinations. But when my daughter was born, and I became hypersensitive to contagious diseases and germs, suddenly I began hearing about measles all the time. There would be a story on the evening news about an outbreak in Ohio, or a friend would post an article on Facebook about increased cases in California. Now, at least once a week, I hear something about the increasing problem of measles cases in our country. As I mentioned in this post, I counted down the days until Stella got her MMR vaccine, and felt so thankful to have easy access to it – sometimes we forget how lucky we are to live in a country where vaccines are readily available.
So, back to the signs at the airport. Do you know how to recognize measles? Symptoms generally begin about 7-14 days after a person is infected, and include:
• Blotchy rash
• Runny nose
• Red, watery eyes
• Feeling run down, achy
• Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth
Three to five days after the start of symptoms, a red or reddish-brown rash appears. The rash usually begins on a person’s face at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, trunk, arms, legs, and feet. When the rash appears, a person’s fever may spike to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’d like to see examples of the characteristic rash, you can find images of measles here.
If you think your child might have measles, please (for the sake of those too young or too sick to be vaccinated) CALL your provider’s office or the emergency room before you go to let them know you suspect measles, so that they may prepare for you, and prevent it from spreading to other patients. The measles virus is spread through respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing, kisses, talking, etc.), and can live in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours after an infected individual has left the room. It is one of the most contagious diseases to affect humans – so contagious that 90% of people who come into contact with the infected person will also become infected, if they are not vaccinated.
Sadly, measles is still one of the leading causes of death among young children worldwide, even though we have a safe and cost-effective vaccine to fight it. The CDC recommends the first dose (of two) of MMR vaccine be given one year of age for children, but can be administered as early as six months if the child will be traveling abroad.
We’ve been successful at significantly reducing the number of cases of measles we see here in the U.S., but we’re not out of the woods yet. Parents, please don’t let your child be without immunity from this highly contagious, dangerous (but preventable!) disease.