Measles -- or, rubeola, in medical terms -- is a highly contagious infection best known for its total-body, reddish rash. It's often thought of as a childhood disease, but people of any age can get it. Those with measles usually develop a fever and respiratory infection in addition to the rash, but the disease can be dangerous and even life-threatening in some instances.
Vaccinations all but eradicated measles from the United States by 2000. Just 55 cases were reported in the nationwide in 2012, for instance. But in 2013, at least 189 people contracted measles. The disease is still prevalent in other parts of the world, and nearly a third of the U.S. cases were contracted while traveling abroad and then spread to others once back in the country.
Symptoms and Complications
A measles virus typically grows in the cells that line the lungs and the back of the throat. Common symptoms are a runny nose, cough, fever and a blotchy-looking rash from head to toe. For some, the infection eventually leads to an ear infection or pneumonia. It can also cause encephalitis and death in rare instances. In pregnant women, measles can lead to a miscarriage or premature birth.
Prevention and Treatment of Measles
In decades past, 3 to 4 million Americans got measles each year, and 400 to 500 would die. However, regular vaccinations -- mainly the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) -- changed that scenario.
Measles is highly contagious, with the virus spreading easily through the air from one person to the next when someone with measles coughs, sneezes or simply exhales. Anyone who's near a person with measles has a good chance of catching it if not already immune.
Vaccination remains the best way to ensure immunity and prevent measles. People who are up to date on measles vaccines should be adequately protected against the illness when traveling in areas where it persists. However, infants and young children, in particular, may not have had adequate vaccines, so it’s best to check with a doctor before traveling internationally.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Nemours Foundation
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