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What to Know About the Measles

Due to the recent measles outbreak in the Puget Sound and around Washington state, Sound Family Medicine wants to keep you and your family healthy and happy and avoid getting (or spreading) the measles. Here are the top things you need to know about the measles, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Measles is a serious viral infection

A viral infection, as defined by MedicineNet, is an infection caused by the presence of a virus in the body. The measles are spread through coughing and/or sneezing. The virus can remain in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves the area.  The disease spreads easily and a person can catch the measles by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing contaminated air.

Symptoms start small but can be serious

The initial symptoms of measles can appear about eight to twelve days after exposure. Symptoms first manifest in fever, red inflamed eyes, dry cough, sore throat, and runny nose. After about 3 days, a red rash will begin to appear on the face and will spread throughout the body. A person can spread the measles four days before their rash appears until four days after the rash appeared. Measles can cause diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, permanent brain damage, hospitalization and sometimes death. Complications are more common in children under 5 years old and adults over 20 years old and those with weak immune systems. In pregnant women, measles increases the risk of premature labor, miscarriage and low-birth weight babies.

There is no specific treatment for measles

Once a measles infection has been established, there is no specific treatment. People with measles need to rest and drink fluids to keep hydrated. They may also need to treat symptoms like diarrhea, ear infections, or pneumonia. Post-exposure vaccination can be administered within 72 hours of exposure to measles to provide protection against the disease. In the case measles do develop, the illness usually has milder symptoms and lasts for a shorter period of time than if not vaccinated at all. Those who have had measles before are immune and cannot contract measles a second time.

The disease can be prevented through vaccination

Receiving a vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against the measles. Masks are ineffective and with no treatment available, the best plan of action is vaccination yourself and your family. The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is typically administered in two doses to children, once at 12 to 15 months and the second at 4 to 6 years old. In Washington state, children are required to be vaccinated against measles before attending school unless otherwise exempt. Adults born after 1956 should have at least one dose of MMR and those born before 1957 are often immune, but should still consider receiving a dose of MMR. For those who cannot receive the vaccine, an antibody treatment can be administered up to six days after exposure. This may not prevent the disease but can make it milder.

If you think you may have measles, call your doctor immediately.

Because measles are highly contagious, do not visit your doctor without prior notification as you could expose others to the disease. Stay at home and avoid having visitors until you have talked to your doctor as they can advise you on the best way to receive care without exposing others. Measles can be diagnosed by a physical exam and a lab test. Many providers have not seen the disease before, as it is very rare in the United States and many viruses can cause rashes so a lab test is essential for proper diagnosis. For more information about the measles or where you can receive the measles vaccine, you can visit the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s website. Sound Family Medicine currently has child MMR vaccines and can provide vaccinations at all our clinics.

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