Measles is Highly Contagious. Here’s How to Protect Your Family

By Rhiannon Collette

On the heels of an announcement this week that measles cases have been identified in the Greater Houston region, many parents are wondering what they can do to best protect their children, especially those too young to have been fully vaccinated yet.

While measles is a highly contagious disease that is easily spread, the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine offers the best protection.

Two recommended doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97 percent effective in preventing infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children typically receive their first dose between 12 and 15 months, and their second dose between the ages of 4 and 6 years old.

My child is too young to get one or both doses of MMR. What should I do?

Most children receive their first MMR vaccine after their first birthday, but doses can be given earlier to children as young as 6 months old, according to pediatricians and infectious diseases doctors affiliated with Memorial Hermann.

Babies younger than 6 months old cannot receive the vaccine.

Parents may want to consider vaccinating their babies before the age of 1 if they plan on traveling internationally or if they believe their child has a high likelihood of being exposed to measles. It’s important to keep in mind that early vaccination doesn’t count toward a child’s routine vaccines, so a baby who was immunized early still needs to get two more doses of MMR on the normal schedule.

Children younger than 4 years old can receive their second doses early, which would count toward their school immunization requirements, but getting the second dose early is likely unnecessary unless parents are concerned their child may be exposed to measles.

If you have questions about your child’s vaccination schedule, contact your pediatrician for advice.

My baby is younger than 6 months old.  Is there any protection I can offer?

Newborns and young infants may receive some protection from their mothers, who pass along their antibodies when their babies are still in the womb.

But, the best protection a mom or dad can offer is to minimize their little one’s exposure to people whose vaccinations are not up to date.

Some schools and daycares in Texas allow children to opt out of their required vaccines for religious reasons or for conscientious objections. The Texas Department of State Health Services produces an annual report showing vaccination coverage levels in Texas schools. If you have an older, school-aged child along with an infant who is too young to be immunized, you can also call your school or daycare to ask about their vaccine exemption rates.

What should I do if my child is exhibiting symptoms of measles?

Call your pediatrician immediately if you suspect that your child may have measles. Symptoms include a fever (as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit), cough, runny nose, pink eyes and a rash that starts on the head and spreads all over the body. Fevers and rashes are common in children, and most cases will not be related to measles; however, if you suspect measles, it’s important to take action.

Measles is spread through coughing and sneezing and can live for up to two hours in the air or on surfaces. Patients are considered contagious four days before a rash appears and four days afterward. If you do seek medical care for your child, it is important to notify the front desk or check-in staff that you are worried about measles, as special isolation precautions are necessary in order to reduce exposure to others.

If symptoms are caught early enough, a child who is not fully vaccinated can receive an MMR vaccine to offer some protection against the virus. Patients with measles may also be eligible for a treatment called immunoglobulin, which can help boost the immune system if administered within six days of symptoms appearing.

If you or someone you know has a health concern, call the free Nurse Health Line at 713.338.7979 or toll free at 1.855.577.7979. This 24/7 nurse triage line is answered by specially trained RNs who can help you decide when and where to go for medical care.

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