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Measles 101

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Measles (credit: cdc.gov)

Measles (credit: cdc.gov)

Recent Blog Entries From Dr. Dave Hnida


Written by Dr. Dave Hnida, CBS4 Medical EditorThe State Health Department has reported a second case of measles in our state.

The worry is the public may have come in contact with the infected people. That’s possible because the infected people may not have had symptoms of measles–yet were contagious nonetheless.

So what’s the big deal? Measles can be a pretty nasty bug and it scares the heck out of us doctors.  Not only does it make you sick as a dog, it has a lot of complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis (infection of the brain.)

Before the age of vaccines, about 5 million Americans got the measles each year — 47,000 were hospitalized — and 500 died from complications.

With the vaccine, we typically see about 60 cases per year, with most cases being brought in by travelers from distant lands.

Yet with the vaccination rate for measles hovering about 85-86%, the risk in Colorado — if some one brings measles to our state — is higher than it should be.

The vaccine is typically given in two doses in childhood, and is a very safe vaccine. Argue that point — and some people stubbornly do — then let me know how much safer the actual disease is compared to the vaccine.

Simply put, refusing to vaccinate can be a public health hazard.

The chances of infection if you are exposed are low to none if you’ve been vaccinated. Unvaccinated and exposed, the risk of infection is 90%. In other words, it’s very contagious.

The infection typically starts out with cold — like/ flu-like symptoms, then comes a nasty rash about 4 days later. A big problem: some people are contagious even before runny nose, cough, and fever — and certainly before the rash.

So many people think they’ve got a minor bug, then go out and infect others.

It is spread like a common cold — sneezes and coughs. The bug can live on surfaces for up to two hours.

And the time from exposure to illness can be up to 21 days. In other words, the germ is gaining a foothold and readying itself to erupt, and you don’t even know it.

The key message here: get immunized. And if you or your kids haven’t, call your doc or the health department.

In case of getting sick with measles, and freaking out over this weird rash, don’t run to your doctor or ER because you can expose others. Make a call first.

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