Measles, the MMR vaccine, and when should we worry

Here’s a scary story with a happy ending. It’s Saturday morning and you are in a medical office 😷getting your 3 year old child checked out. He has had a runny nose 🤧  and low grade fever for the past few days. Today he started to feel better but you thought you might just keep the appointment. 

You’re feeling extra worried because you just got home from Disney 3 weeks ago, and there was a case of the measles at the airport where you had a layover. Your child has an ear infection, no rash, no high fever. He is easily treated with an antibiotic. The nurse practitioner breathes a sigh of relief that it’s not measles.  Your child hasn’t been vaccinated for measles, so the NP was especially concerned. 

You previously chose not to vaccinate with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine 💉 because of something you heard on the news. It’s scary business trying to decide what’s best for your child when there are so many people saying different things. 

Thankfully, the waiting room full of babies and children can breathe a sigh of relief. The 2 mo old baby who sat next to you on the plane can too. He is too young to get the MMR vaccine, and has no protection at all against this deadly illness. The children your son played with this weekend can also take a deep breath– their parents chose not to vaccinate, so those kids are vulnerable, too. 

You see, measles is spread before you even know you have it. It’s SUPER contagious and can linger in the air for TWO hours, infecting anyone who breathes in any particles an infected person may have coughed or sneezed out. 🤧 

These are some of the reasons that you should consider the measles / MMR vaccination.

When is measles Contagious?

One of the cruddy parts of measles is that you can be contagious for four days before you get the measles rash and symptoms The spread of measles can be fast and furious if you’re in a crowded place and are coughing 🤧 or sneezing. Your trip to Disney or the crowded grocery store or mall can get you exposed to measles without warning. 

MMR vaccinations can eliminate measles. So why are we seeing measles infections increasing?

Measles has been creeping its way back into the United States by travelers ✈ from other countries where they don’t always vaccinate 💉 and where there are more frequent measles cases. People who are not immunized properly can then catch measles here in the US. That’s how the cycle starts. People without the right vaccinations spread it to others who are unvaccinated, and so on. 

Measles is very serious. It can cause serious complications for you and your child. 🏥 The MMR vaccine protects you and your family. This amazing medical innovation is one of the main reasons we have such a low rate of measles here in the US. Or at least we used to. During a time when we had very high vaccination rates (meaning most Americans received the MMR vaccine) the frequency of measles cases was very low. Now, as more people choose not to vaccinate their children with the MMR vaccine, the cases of measles are steadily growing. This is scary, and should concern all of us.

Vaccine safety, MMR and autism

The MMR vaccine is very safe, much safer than getting measles, Mumps or Rubella. 🤒 There can be some tenderness at the site of the shot, mild fever or rash but otherwise it is quite safe!  Check out this link from the CDC to read more about the safety of the MMR vaccine

In old news, some people thought that the thimerosal used as a preservative in the MMR vaccine caused autism. This theory has been proven wrong, and there has not been thimerosal in vaccines since 2001 according to the CDC. They also found that since thimerosal was removed, autism rates have increased, so there is no direct correlation between thimerosal and vaccine use. 

The original study from 1999 that put a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism has never been confirmed despite many attempts by scientists. Instead, this link has been disproven repeatedly. It was originally published by a British doctor (Andrew Wakefield) who had major undisclosed financial conflicts of interest, for which he ended up losing his license after the British General Medical Council investigated him. 😬The study was retracted by a major journal. Multiple major studies in the U.S. since have not shown any link between the vaccine and autism. Read more about it here

If you are concerned with the safety of the MMR vaccine, it’s important to make sure that you are reading about safety from a reputable source. 🏥 I stand firm by my statement that a medical professional or a trusted, reputable, science-based resource MUST be the one answering your questions about any vaccine. Please do not ask on a mom group, a celebrity blog, or a random website. Check your source. I don’t make money from vaccine companies when giving my advice, but celebrities do make money from talk shows and magazines. 🤑That’s a fact. Always consider the incentives your information source might have. 

Symptoms of measles

The measles illness usually presents with cold-like symptoms, dry cough, runny nose and watery eyes. These symptoms are followed by a rash after 3-5 days of illness. The rash then creeps down your body and is accompanied by very high fever. Typical cold symptoms don’t cause a full body rash and high fever. So if you notice these symptoms, call your doctor’s office. Any time your illness seems to worsen after 3-4 days rather than improve, you should be checked out or should discuss with your provider. 

The measles infection is scary, but is fortunately rare. If you have a high fever 🤒 and a rash, chat with one of our nurses 🏥 about your symptoms. We can help you decide if you should be worried about measles.

Get that MMR vaccine and protect all those who can’t protect themselves. Help to keep measles rare!

Kim Liner, RN, MSN, CPNP