A once common childhood disease is on the rise again and that has health authorities around the world concerned. Measles cases are up dramatically in some parts of the United States, as well as in France, Germany, Belgium, Romania and the United Kingdom.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 98 cases of measles have been reported in the US so far this year. That's twice as many as the CDC expects in an entire year. In fact in 2004, there were only 37 cases in the US. The UK has had 275 confirmed cases in the first four months of 2011 and France has had more than 5,000 cases in that same time period.
The majority of patients are children and young adults. Most were not vaccinated against the disease and were exposed either through recent travel abroad or infected after coming in close contact with foreign travelers visiting their locations. There is no treatment for measles, though doctors can help treat the complications.
Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It can spread rapidly, especially in areas with unvaccinated people. Measles spreads by direct contact with airborne respiratory droplets (if someone contagious simply coughs or sneezes). Symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough and a rash all over the body. About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia, which can be life threatening (CDC).
The CDC recommends children get two doses of the measles vaccine, most often administered as the MMR. It's a combination that protects against measles, mumps and rubella. The first dose is given betwen 12-15 months of age and the second dose between 4-6 years of age. The MMRV vaccine may be offered as an alternative. It also includes protection against the chickenpox.