Measles, the Comeback Kid!
Measles is making headlines across Canada and the world, but not for a good reason. In 1998, Canada was declared measles free — so why is it making a comeback?
First things first, what is measles anyway? Measles, also known as red measles, is very contagious and spreads easily. Symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose, red and inflamed eyes that are often sensitive to light. These symptoms are followed by a rash, which starts first on the face and neck, and spreads to the chest, arms and legs, and lasts about 4 to 7 days. There may also be small white spots inside the mouth. Symptoms can start as soon as 7 days after a person is infected with the measles virus.
Maybe that doesn’t sound too bad? Unfortunately, measles can lead to infections of the ear or lungs (pneumonia) and more serious complications. Children under 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are more likely to suffer from measles complications. About 1 person in 1,000, measles causes inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), which can lead to seizures, deafness or permanent brain damage. About 1 person in 3,000 with measles can die from its complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that for every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.
Did you know that measles is one of the most contagious diseases for humans? When an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes, the virus spreads through the air. The measles virus can survive in small droplets in the air for several hours. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been...but don’t panic! Measles can be stopped with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine. Across Canada, children are offered 2 doses of the MMR vaccine to protect them from measles.
So, we have had a vaccine to stop the spread of measles, but we’re seeing outbreaks in Canada and all over the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us that measles remains an important cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine since the 1960s. The WHO reported that in 2017, there were 110,000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five.
In developing nations, low measles vaccination rates are often caused by unequal access to health and lack of funding for vaccine programs. However, in Canada and Europe, vaccine misinformation has some parents choosing to not protect their children against measles and other vaccine preventable diseases. It is much safer to get the MMR vaccine than risk measles infection and its complications. Sadly, low measles vaccination rates allows measles to spread, causing illness and deaths around the world.
Do you know what smallpox, polio and measles have in common? They are three vaccine preventable diseases we can eliminate worldwide if vaccination rates are high enough. We actually already eliminated smallpox in 1980 and we’re almost there now with polio! Measles could be eliminated worldwide through vaccination, but it is only possible if we all come together as global citizens to stop this disease.
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