Why Measles is So Dangerous

As measles outbreaks continue to impact numerous states in the U.S., the CDC says the number of reported cases has reached 555 – the second highest level in the U.S. in 25 years. A pediatric infectious disease expert explains why measles is so dangerous.

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CLEVELAND – According to the latest report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of reported measles cases in the U.S. has reached 555.

The measles outbreak has now spread to 20 states.

According to Camille Sabella, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, measles can look at like a common cold at first, but the symptoms escalate quickly.

“It usually starts out with some cold symptoms, some coughing; red eyes, and then they quickly develop a high fever of 104 or 105,” he said. “They will have a bright red rash, which usually starts on the face, and the head and the neck, and spreads down to the trunk and the extremities.” 

Dr. Sabella said the rash typically lasts for about four to five days, and the fever lasts for a few days.

He said it’s possible for complications to develop from the measles and these can be severe.

One of the main concerns is that a person can develop primary measles pneumonia, or a secondary bacterial pneumonia.

Another troublesome complication that can result from measles is acute encephalitis.

“The other main complication that we worry about is acute encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain, which has a very significant mortality rate,” said Dr. Sabella. “And those that do survive, can certainly have some long-lasting neurodevelopment problems.”

Dr. Sabella said because measles is such a contagious virus, if it gets introduced into a community where not everyone is vaccinated, it can spread very rapidly.

Measles symptoms are severe in both children and adults, however, he said the complication rates are actually a little higher in adults.

Dr. Sabella said because we’ve done such a good job vaccinating against measles, it’s easy for people to think that the danger doesn’t exist anymore, but this current outbreak shows how easy it is for this dangerous disease to spread.

He said every healthy person age one and older should receive the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

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