Adults Vaccinations – Protecting Yourself Later in Life

imageA few months ago, as I was chatting with my mom, she casually mentioned that a family member had come down with shingles. I was concerned about him, but went about my day. All of a sudden (hours later), my concern turned to distress – this family member had held my daughter for about 30 minutes the previous weekend. Did this expose my daughter to shingles? And what were the risks? I knew very little about shingles at the time – only that it develops from the chickenpox virus – a virus that my daughter had not yet been vaccinated against.

Although she wasn’t a newborn anymore, my daughter’s little system still seemed so fragile and vulnerable to me. I thought back to our months in the hospital and got a pit in my stomach. I hated to be an alarmist, but I was worried. I immediately went to Google and researched whether or not shingles could spread from an adult to a child. (Sidenote: terrible idea. A lot of non-science-based sites pop up on Google’s search results list.) My next move was to put down the laptop and pick up the phone. I calmly called our pediatrician who reassured me everything was probably fine.

After getting some answers, I figured other parents might be interested in the information I found. So here it is:

How does a person develop shingles, and is it contagious?

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (or inactive) in the body. For unknown reasons, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. Because the varicella zoster virus is already inside a person’s body, the infected individual cannot pass shingles along to someone else.

What if my child was exposed to someone with shingles?

Although shingles itself is not contagious, a person with shingles can expose others to the chickenpox virus from their rash, so those who have not had chickenpox before (or the vaccine that provides protective immunity) are at risk of developing it. My daughter was not old enough for the vaccine (she had yet to turn 12 months old), so our pediatrician told us to keep an eye on our daughter, as she was at risk. Thankfully, she did not contract the virus.

Who should get the Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine?

The CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults who have not had the chickenpox. Children should receive two doses of the vaccine — the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old. Adolescents aged 13 years or older (who have never had chickenpox and who have not received the chickenpox vaccine) should get two doses at least 28 days apart. Anyone else who is not fully vaccinated, and never had chickenpox, should receive one or two doses of the chickenpox vaccine. The timing of those doses will depend on the individual’s age, and a doctor should be consulted.

How can adults prevent getting shingles?

They can get vaccinated! For adults, the shingles (herpes zoster) vaccination reduces the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia – an extremely painful complication caused by shingles. The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for people aged 60 years and older. Even those who have had shingles in the past can receive the vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease. Ask your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated today.

Both the shingles and chickenpox viruses can be very painful and dangerous, so parents – ensure your child gets the chickenpox vaccine when they are old enough, and adults – protect yourself from a bad case of shingles and get vaccinated. Again, the idea is to prevent what is preventable. In this case, the whole family can get on board for the greatest protection possible.

Sharing Immunization Information in Everyday Conversations

Christine Vara with her daughters

Christine Vara with her daughters

By Christine Vara

As a parent who keeps up with the latest immunization news, I feel obligated to share information about vaccines and infectious diseases.  My efforts are not just limited to my contributions on the Shot of Prevention blog, but rather expand to include everyday encounters I have with friends and family.

Of course, no one wants to be that person who only talks about one thing, even if it’s something as important as vaccines.  But as a parent to five children, I have plenty of opportunities to discuss immunizations in ways that are entirely appropriate to my conversations with other parents.

And in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, I challenge you to do the same.

Don’t be hesitant to talk about vaccines.  In fact, consider it a necessity.  You’re not reluctant to tell others about the doctor you love or the delicious restaurant you found.  Why not be as generous with the information you have about vaccines?

Even if people aren’t well versed on the subject of vaccines, they still want to know how to protect themselves and their loves ones from dangerous illnesses.  We must remember that the overwhelming majority of people vaccinate.  They do not need to be convinced that vaccines are safe and effective.  However, they do sometimes need to be reminded.

By suggesting vaccine recommendations in your casual conversations, you can help give people the information they need to make informed decisions.  Why not tell them about the measles and pertussis outbreaks in their communities or explain the risk of rising exemption rates in your local schools?  There are so many ways to introduce the topic in your everyday conversations.  Consider these personal experiences of mine:

At the Bus Stop

A neighbor mentioned that her son suffered with asthma so I asked if he received a seasonal flu vaccine.  Although his doctor recommended it, her husband didn’t trust the CDC and therefore they never got him vaccinated.  After providing statistics on the dangers of the flu and referring her to an abundance of scientific research on flu vaccine safety, she realized they had been lucky and decided to revisit her decision to get her son and all other family members vaccinated. 

At a Family Function

When my expectant cousin mentioned she wouldn’t be attending a family wedding because she was hesitant to travel with her newborn, she opened the door for a discussion about health precautions for expectant moms and newborns.  I explained the importance of flu and Tdap vaccine during pregnancy and also suggested her husband and anyone else who would have close contact with the baby be vaccinated.  When her mother insisted that she wouldn’t need any shots because she had been vaccinated as a child, I talked about waning immunity and the need for adult Tdap boosters.   By the end of the night every family member knew that their vaccination status was critical in helping to protect her baby and every other baby they came in contact with.    

Out to Dinner

As we enjoyed a meal with some friends the conversation turned to our children’s summer activities.  One couple mentioned that their

Christine's daughter after getting a vaccine this past summer

Christine’s daughter after getting a vaccine this past summer

daughter was attending science camp and learning about infectious diseases.  That was just the opening I needed.  Throughout the night I learned that one of the men had meningitis as a teenager, one of the women had a bone marrow transplant that prevented her from being vaccinated, and several of the other parents failed to understand the need for HPV vaccine for boys.  When I mentioned that HPV-related throat and penile cancers could be transmitted to men in ways that they may not have thought of, I referred to Michael Douglas’s case as an example.  By the end of the night parents were planning meningitis boosters for their college-bound kids and asking if it was too late to get the HPV vaccine series for their boys.

These examples illustrate how easy it is to walk the walk and talk the talk.  If you’re someone who is well-versed in current immunization practices, I encourage you to share your knowledge with others.  Why not see how many different conversations can lead to a discussion of immunizations in one week?

Start with something as simple as commenting on social media.  If you see a Facebook post about bringing kids to college suggest a meningococcal vaccine.  When people discuss their concerns about the health of their elderly parents, suggest shingles, pneumococcal and influenza vaccines.  When someone announces that they are expecting, make sure they know Tdap and flu vaccines are recommended for pregnant women.   Of course, sharing posts from The Immunization Partnership and Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook pages will also raise awareness about recent outbreaks, changes to immunization policies and vaccine safety studies.

Sharing immunization information in everyday conversations is not as hard as you may think.  Make a concentrated effort to do it day after day, and you’ll be amazed at the difference you can make in the lives of others.

Vaccines for young adults? It’s not just about you.

imageLet’s be honest. As young adults prepare to enter college, immunizations are not generally the first thing that comes to mind. They are young and healthy, fresh out of high school, and excited for a new adventure. Often times, they feel invincible – like they could take over the world. (Oh, to be young again!) Many young adults do not feel that vaccinations are something that applies to them.

In reality, the need for vaccination does not end when your childhood does. Vaccines are recommended throughout an adult’s life based on age, lifestyle, job, travel, health conditions and vaccines you received as a child. Even healthy young adults can contract (and get very sick from) vaccine-preventable diseases. Too few young adults are receiving the recommended vaccines, leaving themselves and their loved ones vulnerable to serious diseases.

Thanks to social media, and our culture’s current obsession with “selfies,” it’s easy to see why this generation of young adults thinks: “it’s all about me.” When it comes to vaccinations, the complete opposite is actually true. It’s NOT all about you.

Think about it. Young adults might not be the most at-risk for severe disease themselves, but they are likely to be in contact with those who are, such as:

  • Aging parents or grandparents
  • Very young nieces/nephews/cousins
  • Pregnant friends or relatives

Not to mention, this age group is likely to be in crowded living conditions (like college dorms) or come into contact with massive amounts of people every day on mass transit, in offices or in stuffy lecture halls.

Everyone older than 6 months should get the flu vaccine every year. Yet only about 1 in 3 adults under the age of 50 do. This matters because even if they don’t feel sick themselves, young adults are prime candidates for transporting disease to other people.

So what vaccines might a young adult need?

Tdap Vaccine:

  • One dose of Tdap is recommended if you have never received it after age 18.
  • After receiving that first dose of Tdap vaccine, a Td vaccine is recommended once every 10 years.

HPV Vaccine:

  • Three doses of HPV vaccine protect against the most common types of human papilloma virus known to cause cancer later in life. The vaccine is recommended for 11-12 year olds, but if young adults never received it, they have until they’re 26 to get the vaccine.

Meningococcal Vaccine:

  • Some states require students entering colleges and universities to be vaccinated against certain diseases like meningococcal disease. This is due to the slightly increased risk of contracting these diseases in close quarters like residence halls.

And of course, last but not least, the flu vaccine.

When my daughter came home from the hospital in the midst of flu season, I remember being so scared to come into contact with someone who had not gotten their flu shot, because her immune system was so weak. As a healthy adult, it is your responsibility to remain up-to-date on your adult vaccinations, to protect others who cannot protect themselves.

Remember, it’s not just about you! The vulnerable populations in our communities depend on you to keep them healthy too.

Reorganize The To Do List: Make Vaccines A Priority For Your Family

Vaccines

This blog post originally appeared on the Texas Children’s Blog on August 11, 2014. It has been reposted with permission from the author.

By 

As parents, we are bombarded every day with responsibilities, chores, and decisions.  What’s for dinner? Did I set the trash out for pick up? Should I sign my daughter up for gymnastics or soccer? It’s a never-ending stream, some more important than others, that often leaves us feeling as if we are barely treading water.

For new parents, all of the preparation that goes into having a baby is overwhelming so it’s natural to focus on the big things – what kind of car seat to buy, picking a name, and taking that labor and delivery class.

For parents of multiple children, we prioritize and let certain things fall to the wayside – feed kids, bath kids, get homework done, pick up diapers, you get the idea. As a working mother of two active little girls, I understand the balancing act that many parents face.  There simply isn’t time for everything.

Wherever you are in your parenting journey – it’s easy to let a “chore” like getting vaccinated fall low on the proverbial “to do” list.  It’s human nature to tell ourselves, “My child won’t get sick,” or “We can push it off for awhile.” Or maybe it’s not on your “to do” list at all.  Maybe you tell yourself, “If my child or I get a vaccine-preventable disease, it’s not that big of a deal.” Well, is it really that simple? Let’s think this through.

You or your child could be the one who gets sick.  And yes, it could be a big deal.

Let me explain why:

Currently, the U.S. is experiencing a resurgence of pertussis, or “whooping cough.”  Right about now you may be thinking – “isn’t whooping cough a disease that my grandparent’s had?” Yes, they very likely did and sadly, it’s a disease that’s making a comeback.

Last year, Texas experienced the highest number of pertussis cases since 1959.  In other words, for the first time in more than 50 years, Texas reported 3,985 cases, 5 of which resulted in death. So far this year, we are on track to report even more cases with nearly 1,400 cases reported to date, 2 of which have resulted in death.

Texas isn’t alone. Outbreaks are occurring throughout the U.S., including California, which declared an epidemic after reporting more than 800 new cases in just the first two weeks of June and 6,170 cases since January 1st.

Sadly, infants are the ones who suffer the most from this devastating disease.  The 6 deaths in Texas in the last two years all occurred in infants less than 3 months of age. Of the 3,985 cases in 2013, 11% were hospitalized, 40% of those hospitalizations were in children less than 1 year of age.  Moreover, babies are most likely to contract this disease from their mother.

This brings me to my first point – get vaccinated. The best way to prevent pertussis is through vaccination. Currently, it is recommended that all adults receive a single lifetime dose of the pertussis booster vaccine, Tdap, unless you had one as an adolescent (after age 11). Pregnant women should receive a dose of Tdap during each pregnancy.

Many parents underestimate the importance of vaccination. For expecting parents, it may seem counterintuitive to get vaccinated when you are avoiding many other medications.  But in fact, getting certain vaccines during pregnancy, including Tdap, is strongly recommended.  Getting vaccinated with Tdap during pregnancy protects both the mother and infant.

This brings me to my second point –we vaccinate not only to protect ourselves but to protect others, especially those who can’t protect themselves.

If you’re an expecting parent, new parent, parent of multiples, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or even a friend to someone with small children, please, make it a priority to get vaccinated.  If not for yourself, then for those you know who may not be able to protect themselves.  Sadly, for the 4 infants who died from pertussis in Texas, none of the mothers were immunized.

It is recommended that pregnant women receive a dose of Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks.  Infants should receive a dose of DTaP at 2, 4, 6, and 15 months with a booster at 4-6 years.  Adolescents are recommended to get their booster dose of Tdap at 11-12 years.  And adults who have never received a dose of a pertussis-containing vaccine should receive a dose of Tdap.

As parents, we protect our children whenever we can.  We would never be too busy to buckle the car seat or to put on a life vest.  Please make protecting your child through vaccination a priority.  Prevent what’s preventable and immunize – on time, every time.

To learn more about Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research, visit here.


Rachel Cunningham, MPH, is the primary author of Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story. She is also the Immunization Registry and Educational Specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital in the Immunization Project. Her focus is primarily on educating health professionals and parents about the importance of vaccines. She’s been at Texas Children’s Hospital since 2007.

Back to School: Immunized at Every Age

school suppliesAs summer comes to a close, parents of young children prepare a mental checklist to get ready for “Back to School” season. Gather school supplies (check), do a little shopping (check), meet the child’s new teacher (check), and organize the family for their new fall routine. It’s also the perfect time to make sure your kids are up to date on their vaccinations.

Most schools require children to be immunized before enrolling or starting school in order to protect the health of all students, so parents should ensure their kids have had all the school’s required vaccinations before the first day. But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the required school vaccinations, parents should also consider the entire list of recommended vaccinations for their kids to make sure they are completely protected. Schools are a prime location for transmitting vaccine-preventable diseases because kids are in such close contact with one another throughout the day, and you wouldn’t want your child to be vulnerable to a disease because he or she wasn’t fully vaccinated.

So just what is the difference between required and recommended vaccinations? Are required vaccines more important than those that are simply recommended? For example, the meningitis and Tdap vaccines are required for teens enrolling in school in the state of Texas. The flu and HPV vaccines are not required, but are recommended for this same age group. Does this mean that immunizing against HPV is any less important than immunizing against meningitis? In short – no.

Recommended vaccines are part of a comprehensive list published by the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices). The committee is comprised of medical and public health professionals, many of which have expertise in vaccinology, immunology, pediatrics, internal medicine, nursing, family medicine, virology, public health, infectious diseases, and/or preventive medicine. They meet multiple times during the year to review the latest vaccine safety information and information on new vaccines or vaccine technologies.

Required vaccines are often determined by school entry laws passed by the state legislature, or in some cases, by regulatory bodies, like health departments, who have been given the power to require certain vaccines. Some recommended vaccines are not required, but that doesn’t make them any less important. It just means that the state legislature or state health department (on the authority of the state legislature) has not yet mandated that they be required for kids to attend school.

Flu vaccine is a good example of an extremely important vaccine that’s often not required for school entry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and estimated 38 million school days are lost every year due to the flu. As we mentioned last week [link to last Friday’s post], flu kills an average of 23,000 Americans every year – more than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. A total of 106 children have died from the flu so far in the 2013-2014 flu season in the United States.

Flu vaccine might not be required, but it’s certainly important.

The ACIP recommends children ages 4 to 6 should receive boosters of four vaccines: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), chickenpox, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and polio. All 11-12 year olds should receive the Tdap vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine, and the HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV. Everyone 6 months and older should get flu vaccines annually.

And remember, these vaccines don’t just protect your child. They protect your family and any other families you may come into contact with, including younger siblings and elderly grandparents.

So, if you haven’t done so already, double check your child’s immunization records or schedule a visit to their pediatrician’s office. Getting prepared now will avoid a last minute rush and will contribute to the health of your child, and that of their classmates and community.

To see a vaccination schedule for ages 7-18, click here

To create a personalized schedule for your teen or preteen click here

For more general information about vaccines, and vaccine-preventable diseases, check out The Immunization Partnership’s resource page.

Ebola Outbreak Stark Reminder to Prevent What’s Preventable

If you’ve been watching the news at all in the past two weeks, then you probably are aware that two Americans contracted the Ebola virus and have been transported to the US for treatment.  And, even though a person cannot become infected with Ebola without coming into contact with bodily fluids of an infected individual, the thought of this virus spreading in the United States has sparked fear across the nation.

Ebola has killed more than 930 people this year globally since March, including countless healthcare workers and Sierra Leone’s leading doctor.  As we watch in horror the gruesome devastation Ebola inflicts on children and adults, our hearts break, and we hope for an Ebola virus vaccine to be developed quickly. Unfortunately, one probably won’t be available until 2015. Why so far away when we need it so desperately?

One reason is the high level of safety standards we have for vaccines here in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating vaccines in the US.  The vaccine licensing process is extraordinarily rigorous –starting from the first step called “investigational new drug application,” through 3-phased clinical trials with thousands of participants and reviews by medical and scientific experts, and then on to inspections of the manufacturing facilities and continual assessments weighing the benefits of the vaccine with any side effects or risks associated with it.

This meticulous sequence takes years, but it matters because the success of immunization programs hinges on a strong safety record for vaccines. It is because of this process that we can say confidently that vaccines are not only effective, but safe for our children as well. In fact, your child has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than having a severe reaction to the measles, mumps and rubella combination vaccine (MMR).

The development of an Ebola virus vaccine will follow the same daunting (but necessary) process as the vaccines our children receive for polio, pertussis and the rest – diseases that also once sparked great fear and concern in the hearts and minds of parents. And in the case of some diseases like measles and influenza, still do.

Measles is still a leading cause of death in small children worldwide. In 2012, roughly 122,000 people died from measles globally. Influenza kills an average of 23,000 people every year in the US alone. While an Ebola virus vaccine is still beyond our reach, we should take comfort in the knowledge that we are now able to protect our children from more devastating diseases than ever before in human history. And because of the rigorous process by which we secure and assess safety, and advances in vaccine technology, the vaccines we have are safer than they’ve ever been.

So as our thoughts and concerns are with those affected by this terrible Ebola outbreak, let’s continue to encourage and educate our friends on the benefits of the life-saving vaccines we do have.  Immunize.  Prevent what’s preventable!

Vaccine-proud Parent: ‘Share our trust in vaccines early and often’

By Dawn Crawford

I’m the perfect candidate to be a vaccine-hesitant mom. I do some serious, deep online research before I buy anything. I go to WebMD with every weird ache or set of combined symptoms. I read…a lot. I read opinions, I read reviews, I read social media comments. I believe in the scientific method – isolate variables and test for results.

Dawn Crawford and her daughter

Dawn Crawford and her daughter

But I’m not a vaccine-hesitant mom because I met people who cared. I met people who care about kids enough to go to battle for childhood vaccines every day. I met people who had the knowledge and information to sooth my concerns.

In 2008, I was hired as the new Communications Manager at the Colorado Children Immunization Coalition and started my path to become a vaccine warrior. I was on the front lines working to inform parents about the power of vaccines. I was a trusted companion to help parents through a sometimes tough and scary decision to vaccinate their child.

Since then I’ve crafted immunization messaging and created campaigns for public health nonprofits across the country. I know my vaccine science. I’m a true believer.

But it wasn’t until I had my own baby in 2012 that I fully realized just how much trust goes into the decision to vaccinate your baby. They are so perfect when they come into the world. A little squished maybe, but perfect. The thought of bringing any harm is tough. The thought of trusting the science and the knowledge is tough. I found myself thinking, “Jeez, I hope the science is right.”

A parent’s decision about vaccines should never be taken lightly. It’s a personal decision to do what is best for your child. As a vaccine-proud parent, we need to share our trust in vaccines early and often. We need to make sure we have the “vaccine talk” with our pregnant friends and be open to all concerns. We need to ask our parents and other caretakers if they are fully vaccinated. We all need to celebrate parents for posting Instagram photos of their just vaccinated kiddo.

There are a lot of great resources to help inform yourself about the power of vaccines. Make sure to check out these great nonprofit campaigns:

Vaccination isn’t a clear choice for all parents. Parents are searching for the best thing to do for their child. Sharing your trust and knowledge in vaccines will help others make a decision.

Now, I’m going to go hug my fully vaccinated 19-month old because I know I made a great decision to protect her the best way I can.


Dawn is an independent consultant with BC/DC Ideas. She has served in various communications leadership roles for the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, Exempla Healthcare and the Kempe Foundation

What does “vaccinated” look like?

Although being a parent is a huge responsibility, it is also a huge opportunity to raise a healthy, happy child and explore the world through their eyes.  What a gift!

We all want what is best for our children, and making an educated choice to vaccinate is critical to protecting their health.  The facts speak for themselves – immunizations protect your family, your community, and those too young or sick to be vaccinated from unnecessary illness and suffering.  When you vaccinate your child, you are giving them the best “shot” (pun intended!) at a strong and healthy future.

Simply put, immunizations save lives, and vaccinating your child is something to be very proud of.  We asked our readers to send in pictures of their fully vaccinated children, and we are thrilled to introduce them to you.  This is what “vaccinated” looks like!  Enjoy!

“Think Again,” When It Comes to Viral Hepatitis

Do you know which vaccine your baby received on the day he/she was born? Hepatitis B. The first dose is given to babies on their day of birth – so it must be pretty important, right? Right! But how much do you know about Hepatitis B…or the four other types for that matter? Monday is World Hepatitis Day, so we thought it would be appropriate to educate our readers about the dangers and prevention of this disease.

Let’s review the basics. There are five different types of hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D and E. All of these viruses cause short term, or acute infection. However the hepatitis B, C and D viruses can also cause long-term infection, called chronic hepatitis. Here are the “cliff’s notes” about each type of hepatitis:

Hepatitis A: the most acute virus of the three, it often presents like a stomach bug. While the hepatitis A vaccine is part of the routine childhood immunization schedule, many adults have not been vaccinated.

Hepatitis B: a very hearty virus, can live outside of the body for at least seven days (and on household objects like toothbrushes and razors), an infected mother can pass it to her baby at birth, and when kids are infected, it is much more dangerous than adults because they can develop a chronic infection that can lead to liver cancer. Many people are infected with hepatitis B virus and don’t have any symptoms, but they can still pass it on to other people. The virus is transmitted through blood or other body fluids. Vaccination is part of the routine childhood schedule and is also available for adults.

Hepatitis C: a virus that the body is unable to clear by itself, so infection typically becomes chronic. It is mainly spread through blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccination available.

Hepatitis D: found in individuals infected with Hepatitis B, this type is spread through contact with infected blood. There is currently no antiviral therapy or vaccination available.

Hepatitis E: spread through eating food or drinking water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. A vaccine exists but is not available in the United States.

So, you may be asking – how does this apply to me (and my child), and what can I do to protect my family from hepatitis? Well, first and foremost – you can make sure your family is vaccinated! This is the simplest and most powerful way to provide protection against Hepatitis A and B. The CDC recommends three doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine (given at birth, 2 months and between 6-18 months) and two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine (given six months apart starting at 12-23 months.) Adults can get them, too!

And finally, because it’s much more fun to watch finger-puppets sing about hepatitis prevention than read about it…

Most people have no idea how prevalent viral hepatitis is (one in 12 people around the world are living with chronic viral hepatitis), and often because there is a stigma attached to the virus, it is misunderstood. In reality, it is a risk to us all. Thankfully, Hepatitis A and B can be prevented thanks to vaccinations. If you think your family is safe without a vaccination, please think again.

To visit the “Wall of Stories” where those affected by hepatitis have shared their personal experiences, click here.

Measles – Recognizing the Signs

MeaslesTravelFlyerMy 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
• Fever
• Cough
• 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 indiPrintvidual 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.