Measles: Why should you care?

Many parents may have felt they didn’t need to worry about the measles after the government declared it eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. More than likely, parents have never had it. Even grandparents may have a hard time remembering what it was like to have the measles.

So why is it such a big deal that it is now sweeping across the country?

Measles is highly contagious.

An infected person could cough or sneeze in a room and two hours later a person just walking in could be infected. If your child has not been vaccinated, there is a 90 percent chance they will catch the virus. Most of the cases doctors are seeing now are in unvaccinated children. So regardless of how measles got a toehold, it will find every opportunity to take the next step and spread. Unvaccinated children are an easy target. “Measles is out there,” says Shalini Forbis, MD, pediatrician at Dayton Children’s Hospital. “So if you don’t vaccinate, you are making the choice to risk your child’s health.”

It is not just your child that’s at risk.

“There are children with immune conditions and cancers such as leukemia who can’t be vaccinated,” says Dr. Forbis. “If you choose not to vaccinate, you are putting those children at risk. Infants also cannot be vaccinated until they are one year of age. These children are placed at risk when around children and people who are unvaccinated.”

It can lead to devastating consequences, even death.

Measles is more than just a bad rash, it can kill. Millions of people still get it every year around the world, and hundreds of thousands of children die. “Before the vaccine was developed, measles killed hundreds in the United States every year,” says Sherman Alter, MD, director of the infectious disease department at Dayton Children’s. “In addition, it can lead to permanent brain damage and a host of other problems, including inflammation of the heart muscle, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or pneumonia.”

It is completely preventable.

“The vaccine is highly effective with very little risk of side effects,” says Dr. Alter. “The theory that vaccines cause autism has been disproven many times. Getting the vaccine not only protects your child, but the population as a whole. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have any concerns at all.”

“From the perspective of a pediatrician and a mom, there are always risks,” says Dr. Forbis. “The risk of the disease versus the risk of the side effects. Since vaccines have made diseases like measles uncommon, we have forgotten that it can be serious and even deadly. As a parent, I vaccinate my children. As a pediatrician, I recommend that my patients are fully vaccinated both for the safety of that patient and family and for the safety of the other children.”

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This look at a children’s health or safety issue comes from Dayton Children’s Hospital.