Measles Outbreak Puts Virus Back in Focus

March 22, 2018

With a recent measles exposure at a popular family attraction in St. Louis, it raises many questions about the disease that was once nearly eliminated in the United States.

The measles virus is highly contagious and spreads through the air with coughing and sneezing.

“Unlike many other viruses that are only contagious by touching a contaminated surface, measles can live in the air for up to two hours,” said Dr. Ann Marie Hennessey, Mercy Kids pediatrician. “And, because you’re contagious four days before symptoms arise and four days after the rash appears, it’s very important to stay out of public spaces until the disease has passed.”

Measles symptoms may initially seem like a bad cold with runny nose, watery eyes, cough and high fever. The rash develops soon after. While measles isn’t serious for everyone who contracts it, according to Dr. Hennessey one in four people who get it will be hospitalized. One of every 1,000 with measles will develop brain swelling and one or two of 1,000 will die, even with the best care.

With just one measles (MMR) vaccine – which most kids get around age 1 – there is 93 percent protection and with both in the series there is 97 percent protection. So Dr. Hennessey said for those concerned about possible exposure, if you’re immunized you’re safe and don’t need to worry.

“For those who aren’t immunized there’s a higher risk, especially for the younger children,” Dr. Hennessey said. “There’s no cure for it. We can provide comfort measures such as hydration and Tylenol, but there are additional complications that can lead to more serious concerns.”

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Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2017 by Truven, an IBM Watson Health company, serves millions annually. Mercy includes 44 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. 

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