Child with measles

Measles 101

A recent outbreak that started at an amusement park in California is putting focus on the measles. Here's what you need to know about the respiratory disease.

The measles (also known as rubeola) is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air via coughing and sneezing.

For the first 10 to 14 days after you're infected, the measles virus incubates. In other words, you have no signs or symptoms of measles during this time. After the incubation period symptoms begin to appear.

Measles typically begins with a mild to moderate fever, often accompanied by a persistent cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes and sore throat. Over time a blotchy skin rash also appears.

The rash consists of small red spots, some of which are raised. The spots and bumps often form in tight clusters, giving the skin a splotchy red appearance. The rash typically starts on the face and then spreads down the arms and torso, then over the thighs, lower legs and feet.

"Measles is highly contagious from about four days before to four days after the rash breaks out," said Dr. Ryan Grimm, pediatrician at Community Physician Network.

Experts say that the best way to prevent the virus is through vaccination.

"The best way to protect yourself from measles is getting two doses of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine as soon as possible," said Dr. Ryan Grimm. "The first dose is recommend between 12 and 15 months of age, with a second dose at four to six years of age. The second dose can be given sooner, as long as it is given at least 28 days after the first dose."

The measles vaccine is both safe and effective. Most individuals do not have any side effects from the shot. The side effects that can occur are usually very mild like a fever or rash.

"About 95 percent of people will develop immunity to measles after the first MMR vaccine, and greater than 99 percent will develop immunity after the second MMR vaccine," explained Grimm.

By getting vaccinated you not only protect yourself, but those who have vulnerable immune systems.

"Infants or toddlers who have not received both vaccinations need to be isolated from anyone with the measles infection while they are contagious," said Grimm.

Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and children under age five. For some, measles can lead to pneumonia, brain damage or deafness.

Call your doctor if you think you or your child may have been exposed to measles, especially if you or your child has a rash resembling measles.

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