Consult your baby's pediatrician for more information on how to protect your baby from measles.
By: Kris Fedenia, RN
For the past several weeks, vaccines have been in the news — particularly the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). All of this media coverage has stirred up controversy over what to do about outbreaks of measles, concerns over those who are not immunized and how best to protect your baby.
This topic was of special concern to members of our Mother Baby Hour groups whose babies are 0-9 months old. They asked, “What do you need to know and how do you make an informed choice?”
The History of the Disease Before the Immunization
In the decade before the live measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, an average of 549,000 measles cases and 495 measles deaths were reported annually in the United States. However, the number may have been much higher because most cases were not reported. Of the reported cases, approximately 48,000 people were hospitalized from measles and 1,000 people developed chronic disability from acute encephalitis (brain swelling).
There has been a 99% decrease in the reported incidence in the United States since the vaccine was first licensed in 1963. In 1989, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended a second dose of MMR, which further reduced the incidence to less than 1 case per million. Measles was considered eliminated from the United States in 2000 due to use of the MMR vaccine.
The current outbreak is due to people with measles visiting this country, spreading it to unvaccinated people and people with unknown vaccination status. It can also be spread by unvaccinated Americans bringing it back to the United States after visiting other countries, and a small number of cases have occurred in those who have been vaccinated.
How Does This Disease Spread?
Measles is one of the most highly communicable infectious diseases. It is transmitted by direct contact with droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs or less commonly, by airborne spread. The incubation period is generally 8-12 days from exposure to onset of symptoms. People can spread the disease from 4 days before to 4 days after the appearance of the rash.
What Happens When You Get the Measles?
For most people, having the measles virus usually means a fever greater than 101oF, cough, runny nose and red sensitive eyes. White spots may appear on the inside of the mouth a few days before a rash, which begins on the face and eventually spreads to the rest of the body.
Additional Complications for Some People
Complications include ear infection, pneumonia, croup, and diarrhea. One of every 1,000 cases results in acute encephalitis which can lead to permanent brain damage.
How to Protect Your Baby
Follow these steps to protect your baby and those who are unable to get vaccinated (people with lowered immune systems, receiving chemotherapy, etc.):
First, consult your baby’s care provider. If your baby is 12 months or beyond, the MMR vaccine can be given, with a second vaccine given between 4-6 years. If there is an outbreak in your community, the second dose can be given 28 days after the first for greater protection.
- If your baby is 6-12 months and you will be traveling out of the country, your baby’s provider may recommend the MMR vaccination now. Your baby would then receive the regularly scheduled MMR between 12 -15 months and again between 4-6 years.
- If your baby is less than 6 months, he or she may have some passive immunity to the measles if mom was vaccinated or had the measles herself. This passive immunity lasts for several weeks or months after birth. Breast-fed babies continue to receive antibodies through breast milk that help keep them protected from diseases that affect the intestinal system, but not the measles.
How Do You Treat the Measles?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for the measles. If you think your baby may have been exposed to the measles, contact his or her care provider for specific recommendations.
What Are the Risks Associated with Getting the MMR Vaccine?
A very small number of those vaccinated may develop a fever and/or rash. Even with these complications, people are not contagious.
There is no evidence that any of the components of the vaccine cause any long-term side effects. Click here to read more about the extensive research done on the vaccine schedule by the Independent Institute of Medicine.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on vaccines in general.
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