Stories about: measles

One mother’s story: I went ahead with the measles vaccine despite my fears

shutterstock_222469981Before she had children, Marcie was terrified by vaccines, including the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. At the time, she worked in early intervention, coordinating services for parents of special-needs preschoolers. “Many of them believed their kids got sick or showed signs of a developmental delay after being vaccinated,” she recalls. “It made perfect sense, and I had no reason to doubt their beliefs.”

Her fears solidified after reading anti-vaccine books, and she vowed to avoid vaccinating her own children. After her first son was born, however, Marcie and her husband agreed to compromise on his vaccines. They looked for a pediatrician who understood her fears and would help them devise a modified approach to vaccination, including a staggered MMR vaccine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend children receive the MMR vaccine at age 12-15 months, and again at 4-6 years.

The MMR vaccine is typically given as a single shot. But Marcie, her husband and her pediatrician agreed to separate the MMR vaccine into three components and immunize the couple’s two sons against measles first, then mumps, then rubella. (This separated version of the MMR vaccine is no longer commercially available in the United States.)

Fast forward to adolescence. Marcie’s older son was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which meant he could no longer get a live vaccine. (A live vaccine contains a weakened virus that causes a harmless infection in the vaccinated person with very few, if any, symptoms. The person’s immune system fights the infection caused by these weakened viruses, and immunity develops which lasts throughout that person’s life.)

“If we hadn’t vaccinated our sons, we would be completely dependent on herd immunity. I’m so glad we vaccinated our boys,” she says.

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Measles reported near Boston

Measles under a microscope

Two cases of measles, the highly contagious virus, have been confirmed just outside of Boston, according Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Later reports traced the disease to a Framingham Trader Joe’s shopping market.

And while most people in the United States have received vaccines against the disease, or got it and recovered as children making them immune, health officials are advising anyone displaying any symptoms to call a doctor. (It’s not recommended you go to a health care facility, out of fear you may infect others who have not been vaccinated.)

Many adults associate measles with mild illness and relatively harmless red spots. Not quite, says Ronald Samuels, MD, MPH, associate medical director of Boston Children’s Primary Care Center. “Measles is different from chicken pox. A mild case of measles doesn’t exist.” That message takes on a new urgency in light of data released by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), which tallied 159 reported cases of measles from January 1-August 24 of this year.

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Measles numbers multiply, myths linger

Two cases of measles, the highly contagious virus, have been confirmed just outside of Boston, according Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Later reports traced the disease to a Framingham Trader Joe’s shopping market.

And while most people in the United States have received vaccines against the disease, or got it and recovered as children making them immune, health officials are advising anyone displaying any symptoms to call a doctor. (It’s not recommended you go to a health care facility, out of fear you may infect others who have not been vaccinated.)

Many adults associate measles with mild illness and relatively harmless red spots. Not quite, says Ronald Samuels, MD, MPH, associate medical director of Boston Children’s Primary Care Center. “Measles is different from chicken pox. A mild case of measles doesn’t exist.” That message takes on a new urgency in light of data released by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), which tallied 159 reported cases of measles from January 1-August 24 of this year.

The U.S. declared measles eliminated with no cases of continuous transmission for 12 months or longer in 2000. Since then, the number of annual cases has ranged from 37 to 220 in 2011. The current numbers suggest a potential problem.

The uptick isn’t huge, but could signal that the U.S. is on track to follow the path of England, which saw measles cases swell from 188 in 2004 to 2,030 in 2012. England has since launched an MMR immunization catch-up program to target previously unvaccinated children in an attempt to contain the spread of measles.

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Measles: What Parents Need to Know

The MMR vaccine is the most efficient protection against measles

For years, measles has been rare in the United States, thanks to immunization.  But recently, that has changed.  This year we’ve seen lots of outbreaks, mostly started by unimmunized people going to or coming from countries that have lots of measles—and then giving the infection to unimmunized people here.  In Massachusetts we have had 24 cases of measles this year—19 since May!

What is measles?

Measles, also called rubeola, is a very contagious respiratory illness.

What causes it?

Measles is caused by a virus.  It is spread through the air when people with the illness cough, sneeze, or simply breathe near someone else.  It lives in the mucus of infected people, so if an infected person has mucus on their hands (from touching their mouth or nose) and touches something (like a doorknob), they can leave the virus behind for others to catch.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of measles include fever, runny nose, sore throat, rash, red eyes, cough, and body aches.  Sometimes people with measles get white spots in their mouth called Koplik spots.  The spots in the mouth and rash usually start a few days after the illness has begun, so at the beginning it can be hard to tell measles from the common cold or flu.

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