- The New York City Department of Health announced Friday that 17 children have been infected with measles.
- Measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus.
- Symptoms include a higher fever, cough, and rash that spreads all over the body.
- Serious complications may develop, and can be fatal.
- There’s no specific treatment for measles, but it is preventable with a vaccine.
On Friday, the New York City Health Department announced that 17 children in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community have been infected with measles – a highly contagious viral illness that’s preventable with vaccines.
The affected children range from 7 months to 4 years old. Three of the infections, including the initial case, were acquired by children who visited Israel, where there’s currently a “large outbreak” of the disease, a statement from city health officials said.
The virus has spread in schools where there are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated children, the statement added, and although there have been no deaths linked with this outbreak, some of the children have been hospitalized because of complications.
“The increase in measles cases in Orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn demonstrates the importance of getting children vaccinated on time to prevent measles and not put other children at risk,” acting health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said in the statement. “The Health Department continues to strongly recommend unvaccinated individuals to get vaccinated now, especially before travelling internationally. If your child develops a rash or fever, contact your physician immediately and keep them home from school or child care.”
Here’s what everyone should know about the condition.
Measles is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus
Measles is caused by a virus that lives in an infected persons’ nose and throat mucus, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When a person with measles coughs, talks, or sneezes, they can spread the virus onto nearby surfaces or into the air around them. And the virus doesn’t die the moment it leaves an infected person’s body: Measles virus can live up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed, the CDC says. It can live for several hours on surfaces, the Mayo Clinic adds.
If another person breathes contaminated air or touches a contaminated surface – and then touches their own eyes, nose, or mouth – they can get measles, too.
The virus is so contagious that if one individual gets measles, 90% of the non-immune people who are close to that person will also get infected, according to the CDC.
It may cause serious complications or death
Measles symptoms show up seven to 14 days after someone is infected. The early signs include fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. Two to three days later, tiny white spots may develop in the mouth, too.
Three to five days after symptoms show up, measles patients get a rash. It typically starts with flat red spots on the face that spread down the body, according to the CDC. The rash may also coincide with a fever that spikes higher than 104° F.
A few days later, both the fever and the rash fade.
But some people who get measles experience complications on top of these symptoms. Diarrhoea and ear infections are two common complications of the condition, according to the CDC. Other individuals with measles can develop severe, potentially fatal complications, like the lung infection pneumonia or encephalitis (the scientific name for swelling of the brain). The risk of these complications is higher in kids younger than 5 and adults older than 20. For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it, the CDC says.
Measles can be prevented with a safe, effective vaccine
There’s no specific treatment for measles, according to the Mayo Clinic, but there is a way to prevent it: Vaccination.
One dose of the MMR vaccine – which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella – is 93% effective in preventing the diseases. Two doses are 97% effective.
Before the vaccine was invented, about 3 to 4 million Americans got measles every year, resulting in an estimated 400-500 deaths, according to the CDC. But today, because of the vaccine, there’s been a more than 99% reduction in measles cases. However, outbreaks can still occur when an infected person travels to the US from another country, and the virus can spread if it reaches communities where people aren’t vaccinated.
The MMR vaccine has long been a target of the anti-vaccination movement, thanks to a discredited belief that the shot causes autism. A 1998 study that claimed to find a link between the vaccine and autism has since been retracted, and a wealth of evidence shows that vaccines don’t cause autism.
Currently, the CDC recommends that children get two doses of MMR vaccine: One at 12 to 15 months of age and the second between 4 and 6 years of age.