This disease is highly contagious and can be airborne for up to two hours after an ill person leaves an area, which is why doctors say people who think they might have measles should not go the ER or physician’s office. Instead, call your primary care doctor who will advise you of next steps.
“If there might be a kid who is developing the measles, we don’t want to spread that to everybody else sitting in the waiting room,” said Dr. Sarah Springer, who practices medicine at Kids Plus Pediatrics. “So, if you’re even concerned that your child might have it, it’s really important to call.”
Measles starts with symptoms like a fever, sore throat and runny nose, before progressing to eye inflammation and a skin rash of large, red blotches. The disease is more common outside the U.S., and can be particularly fatal to kids under five.
Data show the vaccine is most effective if it’s administered when a person is at least one year old. Health officials say the best way to protect babies under age one is for everyone who is eligible to receive the measles vaccine. The more people who are immunized, the less likely the virus is to spread.
“By rights, measles should not be seen in the United States … it had been nearly eliminated,” said Dr. David Wolfson, a UPMC pediatrician. “But over the last decade, decade and a half, [the] number of people who are not vaccinating has increased. And as a result, particularly in pockets where there are lots of people who are not vaccinated, there have been outbreaks.”
Nationally, there the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there have been 704 cases of measles this year. This is the highest rate of measles infection in the U.S. since 1994.
With the recent measles case in Pittsburgh, some parents are contacting pediatrians to ask if they should get their babies vaccinated earlier than 12 months.
“If we’re traveling internationally, because we know that many cases of measles happen outside the country, we want to protect our children,” said Dr. Damien Ternullo, a pediatrician for Allegheny Health Network. “They can get it as early as six months.”
Ternullo said this also applies to parts of the U.S. that have had measles outbreaks, such as New York City or southeast Michigan. The county health department says this week’s measles case is not related to outbreaks in other states, and instead was contracted during overseas travel.
WESA receives funding from UPMC and Allegheny Health Network.