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Inside Pediatrics Podcast

Birmingham, Ala. (Feb. 23, 2024) — Health experts are warning parents to make sure their children are vaccinated against measles. This comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of April 4, 2024, a total of 113 cases were reported by 18 states. Alabama is not one of those states. 

Dr. David Kimberlin, a professor of pediatrics and the co-director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s of Alabama, says measles is an age-old viral infection.  He says new parents may not be as familiar with it as their own parents and grandparents because a very safe and effective measles vaccine has been used since the 1960s to prevent it. Kimberlin adds that one of the most challenging aspects of measles is that people can start spreading the virus up to four days before they start having symptoms. People with weak immune systems can spread the measles virus longer.

“So, when you start having a measles outbreak, it spreads like wildfire if not enough people in a community have protection because they are not vaccinated,” said Kimberlin.

 Some of the symptoms of measles include:

  • Bad cough

  • Congestion

  • Red eyes

  • High fever 

  • Rash on the face

  • Kids may also have Koplik’s spots (small red spots with blue-white centers) inside the mouth before the rash starts.

Measles spreads when people breathe in or have contact with virus-infected fluid. It can pass through droplets sprayed into the air when someone with measles sneezes or coughs. Someone exposed to the virus usually shows symptoms 7-14 days later. Before widespread vaccination against measles, up to 3,000 people, mostly children, died from measles every year in the United States.

Kimberlin says there is no specific anti-viral drug that can be used to treat it. To help manage the symptoms, parents can make sure the child gets plenty of fluid and rest and give a non-aspirin fever medicine such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. In some cases, measles can lead to other problems, such as ear infections, pneumonia or encephalitis. Kimberlin says the best way to protect your child from measles is to make sure they are immunized. He also says he believes the recent outbreaks are likely linked to low vaccination rates. 

“Coming out of the pandemic, we have not caught up on our vaccination rates,” said Kimberlin. “This is a virtually completely vaccine-preventable disease. If a person gets two doses of the measles vaccine, they have 97% protection against the measles. That’s about as close to 100% protection as you can get.”

Kimberlin says in the state of Alabama, only about four out of five people are immune/or have been vaccinated. This leaves one in five susceptible. For most children, measles protection is part of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR), or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella vaccine (MMRV), given when they are 12 to 15 months old and again when they are 4 to 6 years old.  The first vaccine can be given to babies as young as six months old if they will be traveling internationally. About 93% of people achieve immunity during their first vaccine, and the rest develop it the second time they are vaccinated. Immunity lasts a lifetime. Families can get the vaccine at their pediatrician's office or county health departments.

Parents should call a doctor right away if they think their child has measles or if their child has been around someone who has measles, especially if their child is an infant, is taking medication that suppresses the immune system, has tuberculosis, cancer or a disease that affects the immune system or hasn’t gotten two doses of the measles vaccine. A measles infection and the medical problems that may follow can last for several weeks.

 To learn more about the measles vaccines, click here