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Offered by: Richard W. Martin, M.D. – Brighton Pediatrics

Measles is one of the most contagious of all infectious diseases. Measles begins with runny nose, cough, red eyes, and fever followed by a bumpy red rash that starts on the face and spreads to the trunk and arms and legs. The measles virus can remain suspended in air for hours. Because measles is so contagious, high immunization rates (at least 95%) are needed to prevent the spread of the disease. The measles vaccine first became available in 1963. Almost everyone born before 1957 has had measles.

About 2 in 1,000 children in the United States with measles die from complications of the disease and about 1 in 1,000 develops encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), often with permanent damage. The mortality rate is higher in children who are immunocompromised or severely malnourished.

Fortunately, the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is highly safe and effective. The first dose is usually given at 12-15 months of age and the second dose at 4-5 years of age. Side effects are mild. About 1 child in 10 develops a fever, usually about 6 to 12 days after the vaccine, but usually feels well otherwise. About 1 child in 20 develops a rash that quickly fades. Rarely, the fever can trigger a febrile seizure, which does not cause any lasting harm. Medical conditions that prevent giving the MMR vaccine are rare. The vaccine virus is not spread from one person to another. Despite anecdotal claims to the contrary, numerous, well conducted scientific studies have shown conclusively that the MMR vaccine is not a cause of autism.

Thanks to the MMR vaccine, measles was nearly eradicated from the United States by 2000, but cases have increased rapidly in recent years due to outbreaks in areas with low immunization rates, with a record of over 700 cases so far this year. We hope that renewed immunization efforts will prevent further outbreaks.

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