Measles is a common childhood disease, just like German measles (rubella), mumps or whooping cough. The measles virus is transmitted when an infected person coughs or exhales droplets. Measles are very infectious.
A high temperature frequently develops and the child will feel unwell, but the illness usually does n ot become dangerous in industrialized countries. The acute phase of measles typically lasts for about 10 days.
The incubation period for measles is anywhere from one to three weeks, typically with an initial illness period of about four days accompanied by fever, a head cold, a dry cough and red eyes. On the inside of the cheeks, the mucous membranes will show fine, white dots and streaks. The fever may fall and then rise to about 40 degrees C or 104 degrees F.
Febrile convulsions can also occur and a red, blotchy rash appears on the face and behind the ears, which then spreads to the rest of the body. The child may also be sensitive to light. After a few days the rash starts to fade (frequently with flaking skin) and the fever subsides. At this stage the child will still need about two weeks to completely recover. A lifelong resistance to further attacks of measles results from the infection.
While the illness can be quite severe, in developed regions of the world serious complications from measles rarely occurs. However, in developing countries the mortality rate among children who contract measles is quite high.
One of the most serious complications from measles is encephalitis, which is more frequent in babies and young adults. Estimates are that one out of 10,000 people who develop measles will also be stricken with encephalitis. Out of the children where encephalitis occurs, about one in 10 will die and a third will experience lasting brain damage.
Children under the age of one have the highest mortality rates from contracting measles. This group cannot receive the vaccine as they are too young. The mortality rate is also high in those children who suffer from immune-suppression due to conditions such as leukemia, or from medical treatments such as organ transplants. Such children can only be protected through general population proection due to a high percentage of people receiving vaccinations.
The Measles Vaccine
Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines can protect children (and adults) from all three of these common, childhood diseases. Children should get the first dose at 12 to 15 months and the second dose between the ages of three and five. Some infants younger than 12 months old may receive a dose of MMR if they will be travelling out of the country. This dose will not count toward their routine series of MMR.
Some adults should also get the measles vaccine. Typically, anyone who is 18 years of age or older who was born after 1956 should receive at least one dose of the MMR vaccine unless they can show they were vaccinated or that they have previously had all three of the diseases (measles, mumps and rubella).
Vaccination Failure and Side Effects
After the first vaccination is received, between 5 and 10 percent of those who are vaccinated do not develop any resistance to the measles. The pre-school booster shot of the vaccine greatly helps in increasing protection and results in less than 1 percent remaining at risk. When the vaccine fails to "take," measles can be contracted at a later age when the risk for complications such as encephalitis is much higher.
Mothers who have been vaccinated are less able to pass on protection to their babies than those who have actually had the measles.
The vaccination itself is also not completely risk-free. Receiving the live virus can trigger a case of 'vaccination measles,' which is a milder form of the disease. The risk for a severe allergic response from the vaccination itself is about 1 per 100,000 people receiving the vaccination.
Recommendations and Considerations
Certain people should not get a vaccine or should wait to receive an inoculation. They include:
- Anyone who has had a life-threatening, allergic reaction of neomycin (an antibiotic) or any other component of the MMR vaccine, should not get this vaccine. People with severe allergies should consult their physician before getting inoculated.
- Anyone who had a previous reaction to a dose of MMR or MMRV (a vaccination that includes varicella for chickenpox) should not have this vaccine.
- People who are ill at the time the vaccination is scheduled should probably wait until they recover from their illness.
- Women who are pregnant should not take the vaccine. Those who have not had the vaccine should wait until they give birth. Those women who have had the rubella vaccination should wait for at least four weeks before becoming pregnant.
Others who should consult a physician before receiving this vaccination include: those with HIV or AIDS; anyone being treated with drugs that affect the immune system (such as steroids); people with cancer; individuals with a low platelet count; people who have received a different vaccination within the past 4 weeks; and those who have received a recent transfusion or other blood products.
The aim of the official vaccination program of the World Health Organization (WHO) is to eradicate measles altogether. However, to achieve this, a long-term vaccination program involving more than 95 percent of the population needs to take place. The number of children who have been vaccinated in the UK (for example) has never exceeded 92 percent. Also, the number of cases of measles each year is constantly changing and is highly influenced by public health scares such as the MMR/autism debate.
- Ada, G.L. (2000).Vaccination : the facts, the fears, the future. Sydney, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin
- Godfrey, M. & Anderson, R. (2002). Exploding the myth of vaccination. Tauranga : R. Anderson
- Scheibner, V. (1993). Vaccination : 100 years of orthodox research shows that vaccines represent a medical assault on the immune system. Blackheath, NSW : V. Scheibner
- Studer, Hans-Peter. (2010). Vaccination : a guide for making personal choices. Edinburgh : Floris
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