As measles outbreaks rage in many parts of the United States, one expert has advice for parents on how to protect their children from the disease.
On Monday, U.S. health officials reported that measles cases have now climbed to 839 in 2019, the highest yearly total in 25 years. Infections have been confirmed in 23 states, with many of the cases showing up in unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York.
"Though it is rare to experience life-threatening complications, measles is a particularly contagious disease," said Dr. Michael Ben-Aderet. He is associate director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai, in Los Angeles.
"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," he said in a medical center news release.
Two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine provide more than 99% lifelong immunity to measles, and this is the best way to protect against the disease, he stressed.
"The majority of people contracting measles in the current outbreak are unvaccinated," Ben-Aderet noted.
Children are usually vaccinated at 12 months. Children under 6 months of age can't be given their first of two MMR shots because it is a live vaccine. This means that many children under the age of 1 are unvaccinated and have a higher chance of contracting measles.
Others who cannot receive the MMR vaccine include the elderly, pregnant women, people with poor nutrition and those with weakened immune systems, including cancer, HIV and transplant patients.
"These high-risk groups are also more likely to experience more serious complications from the disease," Ben-Aderet said.
Unvaccinated college students and people who live in confined, close quarters are also at higher risk for measles because it can spread quickly.
In addition to vaccination, other ways to protect children from measles include: avoiding people who could be sick, especially those with a fever or rash; avoiding crowded, enclosed areas; and washing hands often and thoroughly.
Try to avoid international travel. Measles is much more common outside of the United States.
If you suspect your child has measles, contact your health care provider first, because most people with measles don't have to be hospitalized, Ben-Aderet advised.
But if you suspect measles and need to go to an emergency department, alert the ER in advance and wear a mask when you enter the hospital, he said.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on measles.