Measles cases have been in the news recently, and you've probably seen the headlines if you, you know, ever turn on the news or get on social media. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been more recorded cases of measles in Europe in the first six months of 2018 than there have been in any 12-month period this decade. Naturally, when people start using the word "outbreak," parents everywhere get nervous. What are the symptoms of measles? Does measles come with a fever? If you're unsure what to look for — after all, measles is a pretty rare virus — read on.
First things first, what is measles, exactly? You've probably seen the photos of babies and toddlers covered in the aggressive looking red spots, but those are only one of the many symptoms. According to WHO, measles is "a highly contagious viral disease." It's transmitted through droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of a person who is infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it's frequently spread through coughing and sneezing.
Typically, symptoms appear about 10 to 12 days after becoming infected. The first symptoms are usually a runny nose, watery, bloodshot eyes, and yes — a high fever. A cough will often be present during these initial symptoms as well. A few days after these first symptoms appear comes the rash most of us associate with measles. According to the CDC, these red spots are typically flat in the beginning, appearing on the face and neck, and gradually moving down to the rest of the body, all the way to the feet. Raised red bumps often develop as well.
At the time when the rash appears, the fever can increase. The CDC reports that this fever can even spike to temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, it's important that you call your pediatrician ASAP. Your doctor will be able to create a game plan in order to protect your child and the rest of your family. Obviously, if you suspect your child has measles, keep them home from school and do not bring them into public places.
The good news is that most people make a full recovery after becoming infected with the measles virus. However, according to the BBC, others may experience extremely serious complications, from encephalitis to hepatitis. The WHO reports that an estimated 450 children die each day from measles. Children under the age of 5 and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to complications.
The most effective way to stop the spread of measles is through immunization. According to the CDC, "Measles was declared eliminated (absence of continuous disease transmission for greater than 12 months) from the United States in 2000. This was thanks to a highly effective vaccination program in the United States, as well as better measles control in the Americas region." Sadly, that discredited study from years ago (which I personally cannot speak of without cursing) led some to erroneously believe that vaccines can cause autism... and thus, chose not to vaccinate their children for these preventible diseases.
Sadly, according to the CDC, herd immunity against measles only works if 92 to 95 percent of children are vaccinated. When rates dip below that, a community is at risk for an outbreak. There are other ways to prevent measles if you've already done your part and gotten your family vaccinated (and thank you for that, by the way). Model and encourage healthy habits, like regularly washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, using hand sanitizer, and avoiding contact with sick people.
While you shouldn't assume that every fever and runny nose is measles, be aware of the symptoms to look for. If you spot any worrying symptoms in your child or yourself, avoid contact with others and speak to a doctor. The best way to prevent measles is vaccinating, and the second best is vigilance.