Measles Cases Are on the Rise: How to Protect Your Child

The World Health Organization has issued a warning about the rapid spread of measles around the world, noting a 79 percent increase in cases compared to 2022, with more than 306,000 cases reported last year. As of April 18, 125 measles cases have been reported across 18 US jurisdictions in 2024. As a comparison, the entirety of 2023 saw 58 measles cases across 20 US jurisdictions.

The Centers for Disease Control has issued an official health advisory to doctors and public health officials in the wake of increasing measles cases nationwide. This alert underlines the importance of ensuring children in the United States and those traveling internationally at the age of six months and older are current on their MMR vaccinations.

Why Is This Happening?

Vaccination has been a hot topic over the last few years. Many people have become worried about the health effects of vaccines in general, despite scientific evidence showing the efficacy and safety of vaccines. More people than ever are choosing to go unvaccinated themselves and opting not to vaccinate their children. The decision not to vaccinate starts becoming an issue when the unvaccinated population surpasses the threshold of about 5 percent, at which point diseases start to spread more easily due to the loss of herd immunity.

Another potential cause of measles spreading in the US is that many popular travel destinations for Americans are also seeing an increase in measles cases. Measles is transmitted via coughing and sneezing, making it easy to pass on to travelers, who then spread it in their local communities after arriving home, especially if the unvaccinated population is high in their community.

Should I Be Worried?

Measles is a very contagious virus that can lead to serious health problems like pneumonia, brain swelling, and even death, especially if you’re not vaccinated. Luckily, in developed countries, the measles mortality rate is only 0.1 percent, or 1 in 1000. In developing countries, however, the mortality rate can be as high as 15 percent. Despite the low mortality rate, it can be a dangerous disease, especially among babies under six months of age, the elderly, and others with elevated risk factors.

Measles usually starts with symptoms like fever, cough, runny nose, and pink eye for two to four days, followed by a rash. After measles exposure, it takes about 10 days (between seven to 12 days) for the fever to start, and the rash usually shows up around 14 day (but could be anywhere from seven to 21 days) after exposure.

The virus spreads when someone with measles breathes, coughs, or sneezes, and the virus can stay in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours after it leaves the body. A person with measles is contagious from four days before their rash appears until four days after.

These factors combine to make measles a dangerous and difficult disease to manage and contain.

How Can I Keep My Family Safe?

The best way to protect yourself against measles and any other disease is to vaccinate yourself. However, due to health issues or beliefs, not everyone can or will vaccinate themselves or their children. In such cases, taking extra precautions is most important. It’s also important to remember that a vaccine isn’t a surefire guarantee that you won’t get measles. The risk is much lower, but even people who have received vaccines can contract measles.

If you or anyone in your family is susceptible to measles, avoid traveling to areas with active outbreaks or a higher number of cases than expected. The CDC has a helpful list of countries with the most cases that travelers should avoid if susceptible.

For those who aren’t planning on traveling, the risk is likely to come from your own community. Schools and daycares are sites where children are most likely to be exposed to disease. Most institutions will send a notification to parents if exposure to measles or any other communicable disease happens at school or daycare.

Take extra precautions during late winter to early spring when temperature and other conditions make it easier for the disease to spread. Wash your hands frequently and sanitize high-touch areas and objects.

If a measles outbreak has been detected in your child’s school or daycare and they aren’t vaccinated, it’s best to keep them home until the threat of measles has passed. If your child is vaccinated, it may still be a good idea to keep them home, as a vaccine doesn’t guarantee immunity. You can lean on the guidance of the CDC and state organizations on a case-by-case basis.

Measles is a scary disease, especially when there’s an outbreak in the community. The best way to prevent your children from contracting measles is to make sure they’re vaccinated. However, that’s not always possible. In such cases, take extra precautions, isolate high-risk children, and break out the sanitizer.

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