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Measles is back

Why the disease is having a resurgence.

Article Author: Juliette Allen

Article Date:

Measles is back

It's a topic dominating social media, daily news stories and parenting groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 58 measles cases confirmed nationwide as of March 14, 2024. The number of cases this year has already reached the amount for all of 2023.

In Florida, the state Department of Health has issued a notice to health care providers regarding cases in Broward County, Florida, and a travel-related case in Central Florida.

With all the buzz surrounding measles, Mobeen Rathore, MD, chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology for Wolfson Children's Hospital and Matt Paton, MD, a pediatrician with Baptist Pediatrics, answered some of the most common questions they get from parents.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that occurs worldwide. It was considered eradicated from the United States in 2000 but has had a resurgence over the last several years. Symptoms include fever, malaise (feeling bad), runny nose, cough and conjunctivitis (pink eye). A measles rash can develop after several days, starting on the face and chest and spreading outward.

"Measles is one of the most contagious diseases. For reference, measles is 12 times more contagious than COVID-19," said Dr. Rathore. "Unfortunately, with immunization rates at their lowest levels in decades, there is a real danger for measles outbreaks to spread from South Florida to Northeast Florida. Measles is only a car ride away at this time."

If measles was declared eradicated in 2000, how is the disease back?

There have been a significant number of outbreaks worldwide in areas that American travelers frequent. These travelers get exposed to the disease and bring it back to the United States. The measles virus can "take hold" in areas of decreased immunization practices, leading to significant outbreaks in our country. A small percentage of immunized individuals and children and adults with medical contraindications to MMR immunization are also susceptible.

How do I keep my kids safe?

The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) eradicated measles in the United States. It has repeatedly been shown to be highly effective and extremely safe in protecting children.

"Children are recommended to have the first dose of the vaccine after their first birthday and a second dose after the age of 4," said Dr. Paton. "Avoiding travel to areas with outbreaks and ensuring close friends and family members are protected against measles will help decrease your child's chances of exposure."

"If your child isn't eligible for the measles vaccine at this time because they're under 6 months old or for other medical reasons determined by your child's pediatrician, and your child is exposed to someone suspected of having measles, immediately contact your child's doctor," said Dr. Rathore.

How do I know if I'm protected against measles?

People immunized as a child with a live vaccine, like the MMR shot, are considered protected for life. Due to widespread exposure to measles before there was a vaccine, people born before 1957 are also considered protected due to natural immunity. If adults are unsure about their immunization status, there's a blood test to evaluate whether they're immune to all three components of the MMR injection.

"Receiving the vaccine as an adult is also safe and effective," said Dr. Paton. "Parents should be vaccinated against measles because infants generally don't receive the vaccine before their first birthday. Because parents spend more time outside the home interacting with other people, they're at greater risk of being exposed."

If adults want to check their immunization status, they should discuss that with their primary care physician.

What are the recommendations for international travelers?

Traveling overseas with family can potentially expose you to the risk of multiple different infections. Though the MMR vaccine is generally recommended after a baby's first birthday, children traveling to potential areas of measles exposure may receive it as young as 6 months.

"This wouldn't count for the child's primary series, but it's important for him or her to receive immune protection before traveling," said Dr. Paton. "These children would still need to receive a dose after their first birthday and again after 4 years of age."

Do you have questions about the measles disease?

Your child's pediatrician – and your own primary care physician – can help answer additional questions and address concerns you may have about measles and the MMR vaccine. To find the right primary care provider for your family, call 904.202.4YOU (4968).

Find a provider near you

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health

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