Q&A: Infectious Disease Doctor Shares What Parents Should Know About Measles
A case of measles was confirmed in a child in Hood County. Nicholas Rister, M.D., of the Cook Children's Infectious Disease team, shares what parents and caregivers need to know.
By Eline Wiggins
A case of measles was confirmed in a pediatric patient last week in Texas, according to Texas Health and Human Services. The last confirmed measles case in Texas was in 2019. Cook Children’s is sharing what parents and caregivers should know.
Measles is highly contagious. It causes severe pneumonia and can cause a progressive form of encephalitis or inflammation of the brain.
Measles spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can get measles by being in a room where a person with measles has been, even up to two hours after the person has left. An infected person can spread measles to others even before knowing he/she has the disease.
Some of the more common measles symptoms include:
- high fever (may spike to more than 104° F),
- runny nose
- red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis)
- rash (3-5 days after symptoms begin)
If you think you have measles or may have been exposed, isolate yourself and immediately call your health care provider and your county health department. It is recommended to wear a face mask.
Even children who recover from measles, especially those younger than 2 years old, are still at risk for developing SSPE – delayed brain inflammation – seven to 10 years later.
Two doses of MMR vaccine provide the best protection against measles for your child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children receive two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine – one at 12 to 15 months old and another at 4 to 6 years old. One dose is 95% effective against measles and two doses are 97% effective.
People at high risk for severe illness and complications from measles include:
- Infants and children aged <5 years
- Adults aged >20 years
- Pregnant women
- People with compromised immune systems, such as from leukemia and HIV infection
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 cases of measles have been reported this year as of June 8, 2023. The CDC warned in November 2022 that a record of nearly 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose, leaving them susceptible to infection.
The best protection against measles is MMR vaccine. MMR vaccine provides long-lasting protection against all strains of measles.
Here at Cook Children's, we follow the same guidelines that we recommend to our patients and their families.
- Vaccines save lives
- Vaccines are safe
- Vaccines protect those that cannot be vaccinated
- We vaccinate our own children
Nicholas Rister, M.D., of the Cook Children's Infectious Disease team, answers questions about measles and shares what parents and caregivers need to know.
What should I do if my child has only received one dose of the MMR vaccine so far?
If your child has received only a single dose of the MMR vaccine and is >4 years of age, then they are due for a second dose which can help boost their immunity.
In the meantime, the single dose they have gotten should provide substantial protection from severe disease. This is great for their safety but can make how they may present more subtle. While they may still have a fever, cough, red eyes, and a rash, these may be much more subtle or absent. However, they will still be contagious and can infect other children and adults who are non-immune.
If your child is only partially immunized and has some of these symptoms, especially a red rash that starts on the head and spreads downwards, be sure to ask your pediatrician about measles to review if testing is indicated.
How do I know if my child has been exposed to measles?
In many cases, you will not unless you are contacted by the health department. Sometimes an outbreak will occur through schools or daycares, and you will be alerted through these contacts as well. However, if your child or close contacts develop the constellation of symptoms above, be sure to discuss with your physician about the need for monitoring and testing.
How does measles transmission occur?
Measles transmission occurs via person-to-person contact as well as airborne spread. Infectious droplets from the respiratory secretions of a patient with measles can remain airborne for up to two hours. Therefore, the illness may be transmitted in public spaces, even in the absence of person-to-person contact.
Additionally, if someone is exposed to measles and is not immunized, they have a 90% chance of contracting the disease. It is highly contagious without vaccination.
What are the physical signs of measles in children?
The classic findings of measles in addition to fever and rash are cough, pink eye, and a runny nose. These are often prominent. The rash is also unique in that it starts on the head and spreads downward over the body. While other viruses can cause some or all of these symptoms, the constellation should raise the question of measles if there has been a known exposure or if a patient is unimmunized.
Where do measles come from?
Humans are the only natural source of the measles virus. While it could be spread in a laboratory setting, virtually all disease we see is from natural infection between person-to-person and airborne contact.
Information from Cook Children’s and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- CDC: Top 4 Things Parents Need to Know About Measles
- CDC: Measles
- Go here to view photos of measles from the CDC.
- What to know about vaccines and immunizations | Vaccine fact and fiction | Cook Children’s
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About Cook’s Children’s Health Care System
Cook Children’s Health Care System embraces an inspiring Promise – to improve the health of every child through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, we’re proud of our long and rich tradition of serving our community. Our not-for-profit organization encompasses nine companies – a medical center, two surgery centers, a physician network, home health services and a health plan. It also includes Child Study Center at Cook Children's, Cook Children's Health Services Inc., and Cook Children's Health Foundation. With more than 60 primary, specialty and urgent care locations throughout Texas, families can access our top-ranked specialty programs and network of services to meet their unique needs. We’ve worked to improve the health of children from across our primary service area of Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties for more than 100 years. Based on the exceptional care we provide, patients travel to Cook Children’s from around the country and the globe to receive life-saving pediatric care built on leading technology, extraordinary collaboration and the art of caring. For more information, visit cookchildrens.org.