As many of us are aware, more cases of the measles outbreak have been reported in Clark County, Washington and the greater Portland, Oregon area, which have many people both worried and confused. Public health officials have expressed concern based on the how quickly and geographically widespread the cases have been, as many people exposed continue to travel. Individuals have been wondering, what do I need to know about the measles?
Measles is a contagious viral infection that causes a skin rash and systemic symptoms in infected individuals. If exposed, it can take one to two weeks for symptoms to start appearing. Infections typically start with a high fever, cough, conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes), and a runny nose. After a couple days, small white spots can appear inside the mouth, known as Koplik spots. Following this trajectory, a rash will break out that appears on the face first and spreads downward. The bumps are flat, red and may become conjoined across the skin.
Although the infection is self limiting, complications can arise, especially for young children and adults over 20 years old. These complications can include ear infections resulting in permanent hearing loss, diarrhea, and pneumonia. A more serious complication is encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain, that can lead to convulsions or mental disabilities. For every 1,000 children who are infected with measles, 1-2 may die from the illness (CDC). Pregnant women must also be careful, as infections can cause premature births or low birth weights in babies.
For these reasons, public health officials have been advocating for the community to take precautions. Measles is highly contagious and lives in the mucus membranes of the nose and throat. Transmission is usually through air droplets by coughing or sneezing. It can survive in the airspace or countertops for up to 2 hours, which is why sanitary precautions are very important. Making sure you wash your hands (and your child’s hands) frequently and trying to limit hand to mouth exposure from public countertops.
Measles is part of the MMR vaccine, which stands for “Measles, Mumps and Rubella”. This vaccine is administered in two doses, the first between 12-15 months old and the second between 4-6 years old. When both doses are administered, the vaccine is 97% percent effective at preventing measles infections.
For those who think they may have been exposed to someone who has measles - immediately contact your doctor. He or she may be able to determine if you are immune (based on vaccine records or lab work) or advise you on the proper steps to take. If you are immune compromised or pregnant, it is best to stay away from known areas of public outbreak, schools, hospitals, or childcare centers to prevent the chance of infection.
If you received the MMR vaccine in childhood, then you are most likely safe from the infection. Although, a small subset of individuals still do get measles when exposed, this number is only 3 out of 100. Having the vaccine also reduces the risk of spreading the disease, which is great for reducing infection rates in the public.
If you have any questions or are concerned about a possible exposure, contact us at VWS. We may be able to help answer your questions and can direct you to the right place for help. Additionally, we can help support you and your family during this outbreak with immune well visits to help keep you healthy through spring!
Maral Zarandi (ND) is a licensed naturopathic physician, who earned her degree from Bastyr University. She is passionate about guiding clients through their healing journey and providing them with individualized treatment plans. Maral focuses on rebalancing the foundations of health and building meaningful connections to create a safe and effective healing environment. She primarily utilizes a functional medicine perspective to find the root cause of a condition and spends time educating clients to help them feel more confident and informed about their health.
To schedule an appointment, email or call Dr. Maral: