What you really need to know about measles and vaccinations

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By DR. KAREN LATIMER


AOL On Call - Vaccinate! Don't Procrastinate! The news recently alerted us to a possible measles' outbreak in New Jersey, where I live. I heard it just before I dropping my boys at their preschool. My twins are five, and have had all their vaccinations on schedule, so I am not worried about them. I do get a chill though, when I look at the younger moms carrying infant siblings in car seats or in Bjorns. The vulnerability scares me.

I know there are children in the school who have not been vaccinated because of parental preference or religious beliefs. These kids pose a very real risk to babies under 12 months old, who have not yet received the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine. The outbreaks in Disneyland and Chicago, and now possibly New Jersey, may be just the beginning.

Measles is a highly contagious virus, and can cause very severe symptoms with long-term consequences and death. The virus is spread through the air, putting anyone near a person with measles at risk. It can live in the air or on a surface for about two hours. 90 percent of people who come into contact with the virus will contract measles.

Check out the slideshow below to learn the initial symptoms and more about the disease:
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What you really need to know about measles and vaccinations

The initial symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes

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About two to three days after symptoms start, the patient may experience white spots in the mouth.

Three to five days after symptoms begin, the typical rash emerges. It begins as flat red spots on the face which then spread downward. The rash is often accompanied by extremely high fevers.

After a few more days, the rash and the fever subside.

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Mild complications include:

  • Ear infections
  • Diarrhea

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More severe complications include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
  • Hearing loss from either the ear infection or the encephalitis
  • The CDC estimates 1-2 children of every 1,000 who are infected will die

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Like many contagious illnesses, measles is most dangerous for the very young, the very old and the immuno-compromised. If a pregnant woman contracts measles, she is at increased risk for delivering prematurely or having a low-birth-weight baby.

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There is no treatment for measles.

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These recent measles outbreaks underscore the need for vaccination. In the '50s and early '60s, before the vaccine was available, about 500 people died each year from the disease. During the decades following, those who were not vaccinated benefited from herd immunity. Essentially, if no one was getting measles, there was no one to infect people who refused vaccination. The world is now a smaller place. We saw this with the recent Ebola epidemic, and its ability to cross borders. I urge parents who are not getting their children vaccinated to reconsider. You are not only putting your child at risk, but you are risking the health of everyone they have contact with, even remotely.

The science is good. The measles vaccine does not cause autism. Please don't base your parenting decisions on faulty and dangerous data and rumors. Get your children vaccinated, and get them vaccinated on schedule.

More from Dr. Karen Latimer:
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