What Parents Need to Know About Protecting Their Children From Measles
With Confirmed Cases Now on the West Coast, a Cedars-Sinai Epidemiologist Shares How Parents Can Protect Their Children
The measles outbreak has officially hit the West Coast, with dozens of diagnosed cases in California and hundreds under mandatory quarantine throughout the state. Michael Ben-Aderet, MD, associate director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai, shares what parents need to know about measles, including risk factors and tips for preventing it.
"Though it is rare to experience life-threatening complications, measles is a particularly contagious disease," Ben-Aderet said. "However, the risk of contracting it is extremely low and it's even more rare to experience life-threatening side effects. But the threat is real and it's important parents are informed on how to keep their children healthy and safe."
To help parents map their best course of action, Ben-Aderet answered some common questions about measles:
Can your vaccinated child still contract measles? Two doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine—which is the standard of care in the United States—provides more than a 99 percent lifelong immunity to the disease. Vaccination is the best shot at protection from this highly contagious disease, said Ben-Aderet. With two-doses of the MMR vaccination, healthy children have an extremely rare chance of contracting measles.
What if my child is too young to be vaccinated? Ben-Aderet said children are usually vaccinated at 12 months. Children under six months are unable to receive their first of two MMR shots because it is a live vaccine. This means children less than a year old are usually unvaccinated and have a higher chance of contracting measles.
Who else is considered high risk for contracting measles? In addition to children under 1 who cannot receive the MMR vaccination, the elderly, pregnant women, people with poor nutritional status and those with compromised immune systems—including cancer, HIV and transplant patients—are at higher risk of contracting measles. "These high-risk groups are also more likely to experience more serious complications from the disease," said Ben-Aderet. Unvaccinated college students and those who live in confined, close quarters are also at higher risk because the infection can spread quickly.
How can you best protect your children and others at high risk? Ben-Aderet said the most important thing is that anyone who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated. "The majority of people contracting measles in the current outbreak are unvaccinated," he said.
Beyond vaccination, Ben-Aderet suggests:
- Don't surround your child with people who could be sick, especially those with a fever or rash.
- Avoid crowded, enclosed areas.
- Wash hands regularly and thoroughly.
- Avoid international travel, as it's a well-known risk factor for measles because the disease is much more common outside of the United States.
What if I suspect my child has measles? Contact your healthcare provider first, Ben-Aderet said, because most people with measles don't have to be hospitalized. However, if you suspect measles and need to be seen on an emergency basis, alert the emergency room in advance and wear a mask upon entering the hospital.
Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Measles: What You Need to Know