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Sharon Nachman, MD Division Chief, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Director, Office of Clinical Trials Stony Brook Children’s Hospital


The Measles Outbreak What You Need to Know Sharon Nachman, MD, is an international leader in the area of pediatric infectious diseases. In light of the recent measles outbreak in the U.S., here’s what Dr. Nachman wants parents to know.

Wasn’t measles thought to have been eliminated in the U.S.? Yes. However, a rise in unvaccinated people has led to the current measles outbreak. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of May 17, 2019 there have been 880 cases of measles reported in the United States this year. This is the greatest number of cases since the disease was thought to have been eradicated here in 2000.

How is the measles being spread? All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user’s risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer. 19051647H

The most recent outbreak has been traced to overseas travelers who contracted the virus and then visited or returned to the U.S. The disease then further spread in communities where there are unvaccinated people.

Who could get the measles?

How contagious is measles? Very. The measles virus is spread through the air, can travel more than 60 feet and live in a room for several hours. Even if you have been exposed, if you get the vaccine quickly, you may be able to avoid coming down with measles. But you should call your doctor first – don’t just show up at the office or at an urgent care facility – because you could expose everyone in the waiting room.

Is measles dangerous? Yes. While some people may have mild symptoms, others can have severe or even life-threatening ones. These include measles pneumonia and measles encephalitis. One particularly disturbing consequence of contracting measles at a young age can be the development of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). Patients can develop a severe brain infection six to 10 years after having measles, which can lead to profound mental and physical deterioration and eventually coma and death. It is estimated that 1 in 500 to 1 in 1,000 children who had measles will develop SSPE.

Will community protection work? Unfortunately, there has been a widespread movement among people who believe that vaccines are harmful, so they refuse vaccination for themselves and/or their children. Or they think that because others are vaccinated and won’t get the disease, they will be safe. In addition, people may visit a country where measles is still a problem. Today expecting community protection is no longer reasonable with the current levels of community vaccination for measles.

What are the symptoms? Initial symptoms include irritability, cough, runny nose and conjunctivitis. The rash associated with the disease starts on the head and spreads down through the trunk of the body, usually at the peak of respiratory symptoms (two weeks after exposure), about three days into illness.

Is the measles vaccine truly safe? Yes. The measles vaccine is actually a combination vaccine, called MMR, covering measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). It’s considered very safe and, when administered according to the schedule recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), can provide 97 percent protection from measles. What’s more, there are no and never have been preservatives, such as thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, in the MMR vaccine. A widespread myth is that some ingredients in vaccines cause autism. However, multiple scientific studies have shown no link between any vaccine ingredient and autism.

How do I know if I’m protected? If you think you’ve been exposed, be sure let your doctor know – and find out your vaccine status if you’re not aware of it. If you fall into one of the at-risk categories mentioned previously, or have contact with at-risk people, ask your doctor if you should have the vaccine. 160090

Anyone who hasn’t been properly vaccinated or who hasn’t already had a medically confirmed case of the measles. In addition, these groups are also considered vulnerable: • Infants too young to get vaccinated • People with weakened immune systems as a result of certain diseases including diabetes, cancer and AIDS • People who, for medical reasons, such as being pregnant, are unable to get vaccinated • People who received certain medicines and/or treatments, such as monoclonals, anticancer drugs, radiation therapy and stem cell or organ transplants • Elderly people whose previous vaccine immunity may have worn off • People born between 1957 and 1985

Note: People born in the U.S. before 1957 are considered at low risk. They should speak with their doctor to see if vaccination is recommended.

For more information about Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, call (631) 444-KIDS.

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