For a while it seemed like measles was a thing of the past, but outbreaks are back on the rise. In 2000, the US declared measles eliminated because the virus was no longer native, but there have been hundreds of cases nationwide in recent years. Worldwide, there are about 20 million cases each year.
Take a look at this guide about what parents ought to know about measles. Being informed can prevent you and your family from becoming infected or help you make a speedy recovery.
What to Do if Your Kids Haven't Had Measles
1. Understand how measles spread. Measles is highly contagious. The virus travels through the air, and can survive for hours outside the body. You can catch measles if someone nearby coughs or sneezes, or if you share things like food or dishes. People with measles are most likely to spread the illness before they know they’ve been infected.
2. Vaccinate your children. Health officials recommend that your child receive the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine at 12 to 15 months, and a booster shot at about age 5 or before they start kindergarten. The vaccine is considered safe, and experts agree that a previous study made false claims when it suggested a link with autism.
3. Take extra care with babies. Babies are usually not vaccinated until they are 12 months old, so they may be at higher risk for infection. That is especially true after they reach 6 months, and no longer have the immunity that would be passed on by their mother.
4. Update your own vaccinations. If you’re unsure of your vaccination status or whether you ever had measles, you may want to ask for a shot. Keep in mind that vaccines manufactured before 1968 provided only temporary protection.
5. Check your travel plans. Most children are vaccinated in the US and Canada. You may want to discuss other destinations with your doctor.
6. Contact your state health department. A number of states have their own requirements related to measles. Government websites can explain the guidelines for schools and day care centers.
7. Steer clear of measles parties. Measles parties are probably just an Internet rumor, but turn down any invitations. Vaccinations are a better strategy.
What to Do if Your Kids Already Have Measles
1. Call your doctor. Most patients recover from measles with no lasting effects. However, side effects can be serious, so seeing a doctor quickly benefits you and anyone you come in contact with.
2. Spot the symptoms. Measles start out looking like a bad cold. You may notice a cough and runny nose. Your eyes may also become sensitive to light. In about 4 days, you’ll develop a red rash that starts on your forehead and spreads across your body.
3. Reduce fevers. Children with measles may run high fevers. Ask your doctor to recommend a safe medication without aspirin.
4. Rest up. Your child will feel better after the virus runs its course. Bed rest and sleep can keep them more comfortable while you wait.
5. Drink liquids. Hydration is especially important if your child’s symptoms include high fever and diarrhea. Encourage them to drink water or other fluids. Keep a glass of water by their bedside so they can sip anytime.
6. Take vitamin A supplements. Talk with your doctor about vitamin A. There is some evidence that it reduces the risk of complications.
7. Stay home. Measles are usually most contagious for 4 days before the rash starts, and 4 days after it ends. Keeping your kids at home helps to prevent more outbreaks.
Measles outbreaks may continue, so protect yourself and your family from this very contagious illness. Talk with your doctor about vaccinations and seek medical care right away if you think you’ve been exposed.