By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – You might think the fuss over one case of measles is no big deal, but you may want to think again. Out of all of the “typical” childhood diseases that were becoming rarer, measles has been making a big comeback — and that’s a worry because the disease can be a killer.

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Measles can cause ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis and death.

Measles (credit: cdc.gov)

Measles (credit: cdc.gov)

Let’s break it down to what you need to know.

First, the Tri-County Health Department issued an alert about a baby with measles who was taken out to public places, such as restaurants, stores, and health care facilities. The child was taken to a number of these public places between July 8 and 15. (The list of specific places is in CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh’s report Warning Of Possible Measles Exposure Across Denver Metro Area)

It is possible others were exposed to the disease since it is extremely contagious. It’s typically spread by microscopic droplets from a cough, sneeze or mucus that you either touch or inhale.

If you or your child is exposed and you don’t have all of your shots or proper immunity, there’s a good chance you could get infected. (More on risk down below).

Now here is the sneaky part about measles — it is infectious four days BEFORE any signs of illness in the person spreading it. They’re not sick yet. But will be soon. And so might you — typically 7-14 days after exposure.

Measles (credit: cdc.gov)

Measles (credit: cdc.gov)

The disease usually goes like this:

Flu-like symptoms come first with runny nose, cough, and red eyes. (Usually very sensitive to light)

About 2-4 days later, the rash shows up, usually on the face, and then marches onto the body.

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People at this point are usually very sick. Big time sick. And the biggest worry is for those who are very young or have health problems.

Now here’s the thing: measles is preventable. As I’ve said a million times, no vaccine is perfect, but a series of vaccines (the MMR shot) is a lot better than ZERO vaccines. Don’t put your child or others at risk. Immunize!

Most kids are immunized at ages 12-15 months, with a booster at ages 4-6. But that second vaccine can be given into adulthood. And if you were born before or in 1957, you probably had measles and are naturally immune. That immunity can be checked with a simple blood test.

In a press release from the Tri-County Health Department, Executive Director John M. Douglas states:

As of Sunday evening, July 17, every person known to have been in contact with the baby — or in close proximity at the locations listed — has been identified and/or personally contacted by the health department, and provided the appropriate preventive measures. This notice to the public is out of an abundance of caution, and any remaining risk is extremely low.

Hopefully, this current bug will be nipped before an outbreak to the general public.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Then again, the disease can spread quickly and silently — so if you aren’t up to date on shots: DO IT.

Plus, if you would develop any of the signs or symptoms that I mentioned above — DO NOT GO TO YOUR DOCTOR. Call first. We don’t want you coming in and possibly exposing others.

Hopefully anyone who was in one of those places with the sick child had no or the briefest of exposures — and won’t become ill.

Nonetheless, caution is today’s word, and prevention is the key.

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Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida.