Post updated May 1, 2019

Many Baby Boomers recall the days when nearly every kid got the measles. Indeed, before 1963, measles was one of the most common childhood diseases in history. In those days, the virus was responsible for around 2.6 million deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization.

Thankfully, in 2000, the American medical community eliminated measles, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Why, then, are measles outbreaks making national headlines today? What is measles?

Good questions. To answer them, we’ll start with the basics.

To schedule a well visit to get up-to-date on your kids’ measles vaccination right away, call the Primary Care Center by dialing 412-692-6000.

What Is The Measles Virus?

Measles is a serious, highly contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory tract before spreading to other areas of the body. Early symptoms include a high fever, a cough, a runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes.

But among the most recognizable effects of measles on the body is the characteristic rash. Most often the telltale rash erupts in the mouth and on the face and neck. It spreads to the limbs, eventually appearing on the hands and feet before subsiding.

What makes this virus so dangerous is its communicability. The CDC has estimated 90 percent of people near an infected person will contract measles.

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Who Is Most at Risk for Measles?

Developing and poverty-stricken countries are most at risk for widespread measles outbreaks. Regions that have suffered disasters or strife also have more cases of measles. In these situations, medical infrastructure is compromised and vaccines are less readily available.

Those at highest risk here in America are young unvaccinated children and unvaccinated pregnant women. Also of concern are non-immune individuals. This includes people who have not been vaccinated and people who received the vaccine but did not develop immunity.

Most cases are unknowingly brought home from overseas. When that happens, communities with low vaccination rates are at highest risk.

What Makes Measles Dangerous?

Measles is serious because of common complications. Severe diarrhea can cause dehydration. Pneumonia, blindness, and brain swelling (encephalitis) are among other severe complications of measles. Again, the people in high-risk groups for the virus itself are also at higher risk of serious complications.

What to do if You Suspect You or Your Child Has Measles

“If you believe you have symptoms of measles, please contact your primary care provider immediately to notify them that you may have been exposed,” said Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker.

“Do not go directly to the office, urgent care center or emergency room, as this may expose other persons. Pregnant women should contact their doctor about their immune status. Health care providers who suspect measles should call the Health Department at 412-687-ACHD (2243) for consultation and to arrange testing. Most importantly, get your measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine as soon as possible if you haven’t already done so. Vaccines not only protect you and your loved ones, they protect those whose immune systems are compromised, which includes infants and the elderly.”

Treatment and Prevention of Measles

Sadly, there’s no cure for measles. Once transmitted, the virus must run its course. Doctors make a diagnosis by observing the effects of measles on the body. Then, they’ll recommend a supportive medical care regimen.

This regimen can mitigate the rate and intensity of complications and even save lives.

The remarkable fact about today’s headline-making measles outbreaks is that they are entirely preventable. The measles vaccination is simple, inexpensive, and safe. But most importantly, it’s effective.

For a specific timetable on when doctors recommend each vaccine, check out the easy-to-understand immunization schedule from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. To schedule a well visit to get up-to-date on your kids’ measles vaccination right away, call the Primary Care Center by dialing 412-692-6000. You can also catch the bright, colorful Ronald McDonald Medical Care Mobile next time it’s in your area.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks No. 8 on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. All 10 of our specialties rank nationally. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.