Measles Virus: The Reemergence of a Highly Contagious and Extremely Preventable Disease

After experiencing the most recent COVID-19 pandemic, we have endured significant setbacks in containing other highly contagious diseases, such as measles. We must consider steps to take to prevent children from contracting the disease.

In this blog, I will focus on measles and its unfortunate return. This contagious virus preys on any age, causing severe disease, complications, and even death.  I will discuss how we can prevent the spread and keep our kids safe from contracting it.

Measles moves FAST, but we must move FASTER!  Measles can affect any age, but it is most common in children under 5 years of age.  It is not just a high fever and rash.  It can lead to serious illness such as pneumonia, loss of vision, and swelling of the brain. The return of measles shows us how important it is to protect kids’ health by stopping the spread of the virus.

Even though we have a vaccine that has been around for over 60 years that works well to prevent measles, there has still been a great deal of misinformation leading to children continuing to be under immunized.

In this blog, I will talk about different ways to prevent kids from contracting the disease. I’ll discuss how measles spread and why getting vaccinated is so important as well as how groups of people who are vaccinated protect those who cannot get vaccinated. Also included are simple tips on proper hygiene, avoiding areas that may promote spread of disease, and helping kids stay healthy with a balanced diet, the proper amount of sleep, and activity.

Preventing kids from catching measles needs everyone to work together. By sharing easy-to-understand info and practical tips, I hope to help parents and caregivers keep their kids safe from contracting the disease.

three young boys hanging on jungle gym bars on the playground after being vaccinated for measles

Understanding Measles

Measles is a sickness caused by a virus that spreads when someone who has it coughs or sneezes. This makes it extremely contagious, especially in highly populated places, like schools.

The symptoms of measles usually show up about 10 to 14 days after initial contact with the virus.  It may begin with symptoms of a cold, with a fever, runny nose, cough, and red, watery eyes.  However, what sets measles apart is the rash that appears a few days later. It starts on the face and then spreads down the body.  Measles can live on a surface for 2 hours.

While most people get better from measles, it can be very serious in certain populations, especially young kids, adults >20yrs of age, pregnant women, or those with weakened immune systems. Pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs, is one of the most common complications. It is the leading cause of hospitalization and death in children infected with measles.  Measles can also cause encephalitis, causing dangerous swelling in the brain that can lead to developmental delays, deafness, long lasting brain damage, seizures, or even death.  About 1 in 5 unvaccinated people in the U.S. with measles gets hospitalized.

Understanding how measles spreads and what signs to look for can help people take steps to stay healthy and prevent the virus from spreading. In the next sections, I will talk more about how getting vaccinated and other simple actions can help keep kids safe from contracting measles.

Importance of Vaccination

Thanks to the CDC’s initiative to eliminate measles, in the year 2000, measles was declared as eliminated from the United States, which by definition was the absence of a continuous disease transmission for greater than 12 months.  However, in the most recent years, the number of cases in the U.S. has started climbing, including here in Central Florida.  Getting vaccinated is such an easy way to stay healthy and prevent the spread of very preventable diseases like measles. The measles vaccine, often given together with the vaccines for mumps and rubella, helps the body learn how to fight off the measles virus without actually getting sick. It is like giving your immune system a practice run so it is ready to protect you if you are ever exposed to the real thing.

When everyone gets appropriately vaccinated, it makes it more difficult for the measles virus to spread, and helps protect everyone around you.  This is called “herd immunity.” It is especially helpful for keeping people who do not get vaccinated, like infants under 1 year of age or those who are immunocompromised.

Despite many of the beliefs that some vaccines can cause autism, there still has been no evidence that the measles vaccine, nor any traditional vaccine, causes autism. Vaccines are an important and simple way to stay healthy and stop diseases like measles. By choosing to get vaccinated, you are helping to keep your children, yourself, and your community safe.

Herd Immunity and Its Role

Herd immunity is like a coordinated team effort against diseases like measles. The higher the vaccine rate is, the harder it is for those who are not immune to get the illness.  This helps protect people who cannot get vaccinated, like infants under 6 months of age and those with weakened immune systems from contracting the disease.

Imagine a big shield around a community. The more people who are vaccinated, the stronger the shield becomes. This shield stops diseases from getting through and causing outbreaks. But if not enough people get vaccinated, the shield gets weaker, and the risk of outbreaks goes up, especially for those who are not vaccinated.

Keeping herd immunity strong means making sure everyone in the community get vaccinated. By getting vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself—you are also helping to protect everyone else. It is like being part of a team working together to keep each other safe from diseases like measles. Later on, we will talk about ways to make sure vaccination rates stay high and herd immunity stays strong.  This may start at the school level as we continue to allow students to enter the system without having all of their required immunizations and therefore are not protected against serious diseases like measles.

Preventive Measures for Parents and Caregivers

DON’T HESITATE, JUST VACCINATE!!  Getting your child vaccinated on time is an important first step.  Measles is included with other immunizations, the mumps and rubella.  The first dose is usually given when your child is around 1 year old, and the second one is around 4 to 6 years old. Following this schedule helps your child build up protection against measles.

It is also important for parents and caregivers to keep their own vaccinations up to date. This not only keeps you from getting sick, but also helps prevent children from contracting the disease. If you are not sure about your vaccinations or have questions, talk to your doctor. They can give you advice and help clear up any concerns you might have.

Promoting Hygiene Practices

Teaching proper hygiene practices to stop diseases like measles from spreading is key.  Encourage proper hand washing with soap and water, scrubbing for about 20 seconds, and getting in between fingers and under nails.  Remind them to wash before eating, after going to the bathroom, and after coughing or sneezing.

Teaching how to cover their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze, either with a tissue or their elbow helps keep germs from spreading to others.  This also prevents spreading germs when touching things with their hands.  Disinfecting surfaces properly is another important step in preventing spread of any illness.

Encouraging kids to keep up with personal hygiene habits, like taking baths regularly and brushing their teeth, is also important. And remind them not to share things like towels or drinks with others because that can spread germs too. By teaching kids these simple habits, you are helping them stay healthy and keeping sicknesses like measles from spreading.

mom helping her daughter to wash her hands to prevent measles and other contagious diseases

Supportive Measures for a Healthy Immune System

Ensure your child stays healthy by helping their body fight off sicknesses like measles by providing them with a healthy diet.  Fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats are full of vitamins and minerals that help their immune system stay strong.

Getting enough sleep is also important for keeping their immune system in top shape. Kids need plenty of rest to help their bodies recover and stay healthy. Having a regular bedtime routine and making sure they get enough sleep for their age can help their immune system work more efficiently. Try to limit screen time before bed and create a relaxing bedtime environment to help them get more quality sleep.

Encouraging exercise and physical activity is another way to support their immune system. Exercise helps their body stay strong and improves their circulation, which helps fight off infection. Encourage them to play outside, ride bikes, or join sports.  Making exercise fun and part of their daily routine can help them stay healthy.

Managing stress is also important for keeping their immune system strong. While it is normal for kids to feel stressed sometimes, too much stress can make them more likely to get sick. Teaching them ways to relax, like deep breathing or doing things they enjoy, can help them handle stress better and stay healthy.

Lastly, making sure your child gets the recommended vaccines is crucial for protecting their immune system from diseases like measles. Vaccines help their body recognize and fight off germs, keeping them and others safe from getting sick.

By following these simple steps, you can help your child stay healthy and reduce their chances of getting sick, including measles. These healthy habits, along with regular check-ups and vaccines, can keep your child feeling their best.


Do adults and teenagers need a booster vaccine?

Yes, adults and teenagers may need a booster vaccine for measles under certain circumstances to help prevent contracting the disease. Most individuals receive two doses of the measles vaccine during childhood as part of the routine immunization schedule. There are also situations where additional doses may be recommended. For example, adults and teenagers who did not receive two doses of the vaccine. Also, those at increased risk of exposure due to travel, occupation, or living in areas with outbreaks may benefit from a booster vaccine. Additionally, some individuals may require a booster dose if they are part of a population where immunity wanes over time, such as healthcare workers or college students living in communal settings. Consulting with a healthcare provider can help determine if a booster vaccine is necessary based on individual circumstances and risk factors.

When should my child receive the measles vaccine?

Your child should receive the measles vaccine according to the recommended immunization schedule. The first dose is typically given at 12 to 15 months of age, usually as part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. A second dose is then administered between 4 to 6 years old, before starting school. Following this schedule is important to ensure your child develops immunity to measles and remains protected against the virus. However, if your child misses the recommended doses, they can still catch up later. It is never too late to get vaccinated against measles. If traveling to an area with a potential outbreak or there is a known exposure to the measles virus, your child could be eligible to get the vaccine early. It is best to consult with your pediatrician for specific guidance on when to vaccinate your child, based on their individual circumstances and the immunization schedule in your country or region.

Can my child still get measles if they’ve been vaccinated?

Yes, although the measles vaccine is highly effective, there is still a small chance that a vaccinated child can get measles, especially if they have only received one dose of the vaccine. However, the risk of getting measles after vaccination is much lower compared to those who are unvaccinated. In cases where a vaccinated individual does end up contracting the disease, the symptoms are often milder and the duration of illness is shorter. Additionally, vaccination reduces the likelihood of complications and severe outcomes associated with measles infection. It’s important to ensure that children receive the recommended two doses of the measles vaccine to maximize their protection against the virus and help maintain herd immunity within the community.

Are there any side effects of the measles vaccine?

Yes, like all vaccines, the measles vaccine can cause side effects, but they are usually mild and temporary. The most common side effects include soreness or redness at the injection site, mild fever, and mild rash. Some children may also experience temporary joint pain or swelling of the glands in the neck or cheeks. Serious side effects from the measles vaccine are rare but can include allergic reactions or, very rarely, febrile seizures. It’s important to note that the risks of serious side effects from the vaccine are much lower than the risks associated with getting measles itself, which can lead to severe complications and even death. Overall, the benefits of vaccination in preventing measles far outweigh the risks of potential side effects. If you have any concerns about the measles vaccine or its side effects, it’s best to discuss them with your child’s healthcare provider.

How long does immunity from the measles vaccine last?

The immunity provided by the measles vaccine is generally long-lasting, with studies showing that most individuals maintain immunity for many years, if not a lifetime, after receiving two doses of the vaccine. The majority of people who receive the recommended two doses of the measles vaccine during childhood are protected from measles for life. However, in rare cases, immunity may wane over time, particularly in individuals who received only one dose of the vaccine or who belong to certain high-risk groups. In such cases, a booster dose of the vaccine may be recommended to ensure continued protection against measles. Overall, the measles vaccine is highly effective in providing long-term immunity against the virus for the vast majority of individuals who receive it.

Are there any groups of children who shouldn’t receive the measles vaccine?

In general, the measles vaccine is safe and recommended for the vast majority of children. However, there are certain groups of children who should not receive the measles vaccine or should wait before getting vaccinated. This includes infants younger than 6 months old, as their immune systems are not yet fully developed, and giving them the vaccine at this age may not provide adequate protection. Children with severe allergies to any component of the measles vaccine, such as gelatin or neomycin, should also avoid vaccination. Additionally, children who are immunocompromised due to certain medical conditions or treatments, such as chemotherapy or high-dose corticosteroids, may need to postpone vaccination until their immune system is stronger. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine if there are any specific contraindications or precautions for your child before receiving the measles vaccine.

How can I tell if my child has measles or just a common cold?

Distinguishing between measles and a common cold can be challenging, as both illnesses share similar early symptoms. However, measles typically starts with symptoms such as high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes, followed by the appearance of a distinctive rash that spreads from the face down to the rest of the body. The measles rash consists of small red spots that may merge together and often start around the hairline and behind the ears before spreading. Unlike a cold, measles rash tends to be accompanied by high fever and may cause more severe symptoms such as malaise, loss of appetite, and sensitivity to light. If you suspect your child has measles, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and management.

Is there a treatment for measles if my child gets infected?

There is no specific antiviral treatment for measles, but supportive care can help manage symptoms and complications. If your child ends up contracting the disease, it’s important to keep them hydrated and comfortable while their body fights off the infection. Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen can help reduce fever and alleviate discomfort. However, avoid giving aspirin to children with measles due to the risk of developing a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome. In some cases, especially if complications arise, your child’s healthcare provider may recommend hospitalization for monitoring and supportive care. While measles can be serious, most children recover fully with proper care and rest. Vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent measles and its complications.

Conclusion: How To Prevent Children From Contracting The Disease

In summary, keeping kids safe from measles and other sicknesses requires a multidisciplinary approach. Making sure kids get their vaccines on time is key. It helps build up their immunity and keeps them safe from contracting the disease.

Teaching kids to wash their hands often, cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and keep things clean around the house helps stop germs from spreading. During outbreaks, it’s best to avoid crowded places where the virus might be lurking.

Encouraging healthy habits like eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, staying active, and managing stress also helps keep kids’ immune systems strong.

In the end, it’s up to all of us—parents, caregivers, schools, healthcare providers, and communities—to work together and keep our kids safe from measles and other preventable illnesses. By staying informed, following vaccination schedules, and promoting healthy habits, we can give our children the best chance at staying healthy and happy. Let us keep working together to keep our kids safe and healthy!

Meet Veronica C. Davis, DO

Dr. Davis  received her Bachelor of Science at the University of Florida where she was a member of the UF Honors Society and National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She received her medical degree from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, FL. While at USF for her training, Dr. Davis served as the Chief Resident for the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics residency program. She was also awarded the Gold Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award.

Dr. Davis has developed a holistic approach to treating patients while focusing on creating a patient centered medical home. She has special interests in adult and pediatric preventative and general care, adolescent transition, women’s health, diabetes, and weight management.


Internal Medicine

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