For people who grew up as recently as the 1950s, measles outbreaks remain a frightening childhood memory. In that decade in particular, according to a study originally published in the Reviews of Infectious Disease more than 500,000 measles cases, 500 of which were fatal, struck the U.S. each year. Beginning in the early 1960s, the measles vaccine was introduced, representing one of the most unprecedented victories in the history of public health. For the first time, people could rely on more than just a few somewhat effective hygiene measures – and a whole lot of luck – to avoid this fast-spreading viral infection. In fact, by the year 2000, measles was eradicated in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unfortunately, unforeseen social factors have since assured another chapter in the story of the U.S. vs. measles – the disease is back on the rise.
For medical caregivers, measles must be even more top-of-mind than the general public. It’s critical for caregivers to be able to spot the condition and engage in proper practices to prevent personal infection and the spread of the condition throughout the hospital ecosystem. The following facts on measles will help you better understand how to do that – and what’s at stake for all of us.
What to Look For
Medical News Today gives a rundown of symptoms when a person is infected with measles. These include a fever, cough and runny nose appearing within 9 to 11 days of exposure. Within three to four days of initial symptoms presenting, those infected may experience the characteristic red-brown rash.
People infected with measles may also exhibit:
• A dry hacking cough, runny nose and sneezing
• Light sensitivity
• Full body aches
• White spots in the mouth and throat
For some people, harsher symptoms and dangerous secondary conditions can arise.
When Things Get More Serious
Especially for those who are immunocompromised, measles can cause dangerous complications, such as:
• Severe diarrhea and vomiting
• Eye and ear infections
• Bronchitis, difficulty breathing and respiratory tract infections
• Seizures due to high fever
• Bacterial pneumonia
As well as a series of even more debilitating and life-threatening disorders of the brain, eyes, heart and blood clotting system, some which emerge years after infection.
The Current Measles Outbreak
A CDC report charting the uptick in measles cases since 2008 shows that unvaccinated or poorly vaccinated, sometimes culturally insular populations in the U.S. along with travelers from places with lower vaccination rates, have caused the number of cases to start increasing again. Due to what a News & Observer article describes as misperceptions about vaccines in such communities, public health professionals expect outbreaks to increase.
A press release from HHS Secretary Azar confirms that this year’s outbreak has officially topped 2014’s peak, with 695 measles cases in the U.S. already this year.
Prevention is Protection
Once someone is infected with measles, caregivers can only attempt to ease its impact as the disease runs its course. That means that vaccinating and promoting vaccination to build herd immunity is the best bet for managing this highly virulent pathogen. Beyond that, prophylactic measures like proper hand hygiene can help stem the spread of this virus.
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