Measles: What can you do?

In 2000, the measles were all but extinct in the United States.

Get the facts

  • The measles vaccine reduces risk by 95 percent at the first shot and 99 percent the second shot.
  • Children can receive the measles vaccinations at age 1 and 4.
  • The recommended starting vaccination age is 12 months because, when mothers have been vaccinated, antibodies are passed down to their babies, and these antibodies remain in the baby’s system for about a year.
  • Parents can request to have vaccinations done at 6 months if they are concerned that their baby is at high risk.
  • The 6-month vaccine is typically only recommended to babies who will be traveling abroad or who will be in high-risk environments, such as in a day care with babies who have been diagnosed.

In 2014, there were 600 cases.

It’s only the second month of 2015, and we’ve already read, tweeted, retweeted, shared, talked about and listened to accounts of almost 100 cases of measles thus far.

And just last week, five of those accounts, at the Palatine KinderCare Learning Center, were Chicago babies under age 1, and therefore unable to be immunized.

The measles, a viral illness, is one of the most contagious in history. The infected particles can remain on surfaces for up to two hours, and once breathed in, they spread into kids’ lungs undetected until that dreaded rash.

The illness is airborne, untreatable and marked by common cold-like symptoms. In fact, Susan Sheinkop of Lake Shore Pediatrics, says you really can’t tell the difference until there’s a rash on your baby’s forehead, which then creeps down to their toes, and their fever is obscenely high.

So what can parents do?

According to Tina Tan, infectious disease specialist at Ann& Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, there isn’t much to do but make sure vaccinations are in order, for both parents and children.

“The thing is, there isn’t any protection we can give after the fact,” Tan says. “There is only the prevention, in the measles vaccine. Vaccinating your kids can protect your kids, other kids and yourself.”

Tan says that if your child is exhibiting cold-like symptoms, take measures to alleviate them with cold- and fever-reducing aids. However, if you or your child experiences a high fever, redness in the whites of the eyes, a severe cough or a rash on the forehead, see a doctor immediately.

But how do we protect our babies, pregnant mothers and all others who cannot get vaccinated, for medical reasons?

According to Tan, these individuals can only rely on the rest of the community to get vaccinated.

Despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to date to support not vaccinating children, some parents are adamantly against the idea. A number of parents in California have even been reported to host “measles parties,” in which they intentionally infect their children with the illness. However, the Department of Health has strongly spoken out against intentionally infecting anyone with the disease.

Because of increasing concerns with recent outbreaks, some parents are choosing to get their baby’s vaccinations done early, before the typical 1-year or 4-year marks.

“It’s always been a scary illness,” Sheinkop says. “But with the decrease in diagnoses because of the vaccine, the scare went away for a while. And then when we heard about Disneyland, it sounded far away. But now it’s close to home for our patients, and they’re scared.”

As for daily life, Tan says parents can’t stop everything in lieu of measles fear. “We get a lot of questions about whether kids should be going to another kid’s birthday party and things like that,” she says. “And of course, you have to live your life.”

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