Preventing the preventable: what you need to know about measles

Another large exposure of a dangerous infection: This is always a newsworthy event, but it often occurs in other parts of the world.

Unfortunately, we have such an event currently happening in our area of Oregon. Two cases of measles have been confirmed in Multnomah County since June 27, 2018. One is believed to have been infected during travel outside the United States and the other was a known close contact to the first case. More than 500 people, including children, have been exposed to the disease.

What is measles?

Measles is a highly contagious disease spread by a virus. It causes high fever and rash. One in three people infected with measles will not only have the rash, but other complications, particularly if the child is younger than 5 years of age.  Pneumonia (lung infection) may develop in 5 percent of infected children.  Out of every 1,000 children who gets measles, one will develop swelling of the brain and/or death. Other concerns are diarrhea (leading to dehydration) and deafness (from ear infections).

How can you prevent it?

Measles is preventable by a vaccine called MMR or “measles, mumps, rubella.” In our current situation, a vaccinated person would be protected against the infected individuals. The vaccine is highly effective to protect 95 percent of people after a single vaccine, and 99 percent of people after the recommended two-dose series.

The vaccine cannot be given to individuals who have compromised immune systems, so that is a valid exemption. But the vaccine is safe for others. Personal preferences not to vaccine – and thus not receive this safe and effective vaccine – increases the risk that our vulnerable children will be infected.

Our children are affected by unpredictable events, and exposures to infections occur – but vaccinating your children is one way to protect them.

Have a question about measles in Multnomah County? Please call the Multnomah County Health Department at (503) 988-3406 or view their FAQs.

Dawn Nolt, M.D., M.P.H.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Division of Infectious Diseases
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital