By: Ummulwara Qasim and Sadaf Qadir
Since the 2015 Disneyland outbreak, the measles have become relevant in the United States once more . A highly contagious virus, it begins with severe flu-like symptoms such as a fever, sore throat, and coughing, ultimately developing into the characteristic rashes and red eyes . On average, the disease lasts about two weeks if there are no other complications . In some cases, it may lead to encephalitis, or the inflammation of the brain, resulting in brain damage or even death . While there is no cure for the measles, limited treatment options exist. If caught within 72 hours of exposure, the measles vaccine can be given as a treatment or, if caught within 6 days of exposure, antibody injections can be given to help the immune system fight off the infection. However, most treatments involve taking painkillers and fever reducers to alleviate symptoms . But why worry about measles if it’s just considered to be a disease of the past?
With 70 new cases in the past year, it is hard to believe that the virus has actually been considered eliminated, largely due to vaccination, from the U.S. since the year 2000 . Although the measles were widespread, it did not become a “nationally notifiable disease,” a disease that requires documentation and reporting of new cases, until 1912 . In the first decade of reporting, 6000 deaths were recorded every year and by the mid-20th century, almost all children contracted measles by the age of 15 . In 1968, the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was developed and began the movement for measles eradication by 1982 [2, 4]. Although that goal was not accomplished, infections had decreased by 80% . Yet in 1989, a measles outbreak occurred in a school of vaccinated children . It was discovered that immunity wanes with only one dosage and from then on, it was recommended to get a second dose of the vaccine . By 2000, the disease was considered eliminated [2, 3].
If measles is considered to be eliminated, why is vaccination still important? Vaccination is highly recommended as measles is still prevalent in many parts of the world and can be transmitted through travel . A common misconception is that measles is a “harmless childhood disease.” However, as previously mentioned, complications are possible and do occur, especially in populations of low vaccination and immune-compromised individuals . Given that there have been new cases that have occurred in the past few years, it is still recommended to prevent contracting the disease with a properly administered dose of the MMR vaccine. While most are vaccinated as children, the vaccine can be given to adolescents and adults. The vaccine has been shown to be up to 97% effective, leaving vaccinated people safer than those who are not[6, 7].
1. 2017. Measles Cases and Outbreaks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2. Measles (Rubeola). 13 February 2015. Atlanta (GA): Center for Disease Control and Prevention; https://www.cdc.gov/measles/
3. Frequently Asked Questions about Measles in the U.S. 29 January 2015. Atlanta (GA): Center for Disease Control and Prevention; https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/faqs.html
4. Measles History. 3 November 2014. Atlanta (GA): Center for Disease Control and Prevention; https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/history.html]
5. Premaratna R., Luke N., Perera H., Gunathilake M., Amarasena P., Chandrasena T.G. 2017. “Sporadic cases of adult measles: a research article.” BMC Research Notes. 10: 38.
6. 2016. Measles Vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
7. 2016. Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/mmr/public/index.html