Measles are Making a Comeback: What You Need to Know

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Measles are Making a Comeback: What You Need to Know

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It wasn’t that long ago when health officials thought that measles would be a thing of the past thanks to worldwide efforts to get people vaccinated.  However, measles vaccines don’t always last for life, and many people don’t get boosters that help to keep the body safe from infection.  Additionally, because measles isn’t perceived as an existential threat like it once was, more and more people are opting not to get vaccinated at all. 

Additionally, reductions in funding and government programs that provide vaccines to the developing world are putting more people at risk.  When combined with how easy it is to travel and how fast diseases can spread, it wouldn’t take much for measles to make a resurgence in countries, including the United States, that have been relatively measles-free for decades.

What is Measles

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The measles is actually a very contagious virus that settles in mucous deposits of the throat, mouth and respiratory system.  It is easily transmitted through close personal contact as well as indirect contact, primarily by an infected person who coughs or sneezes.  However, an infected person can also transmit the virus by touching their nose, face or mouth that has small bits of mucous and then touching other objects. 

Cross contamination from discarded tissue, soiled clothing or contaminated objects is also very common.  To make matters worse, the virus can live in the exposed air for hours after being deposited on surfaces and objects, making it easy for an innocent victim to become exposed.

The virus usually finds itself embedded in the respiratory system where it multiplies before causing an immune response.  However, instead of killing the virus, these cells become infected and spread the virus throughout the body.  First the lymph nodes are targeted before the virus enters the bloodstream and starts to attack various organs and systems.  Left untreated, some severe reactions can be fatal, particularly if the virus enters the brain.

In most cases, exposure isn’t fatal in those who have healthy immune systems.  However, it can take weeks before the body can mount a sufficient defense against the virus.  Extremely high fevers, rashes, swelling and painful inflammation are not uncommon.  Most infections are associated with a persistent, hacking cough as well. 

Common Complications

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Pneumonia and encephalitis are the two most common, and deadly, side-effects of exposure to measles.  In some cases, victims of exposure may suffer from a degenerative and fatal disease of the nervous system that may take years to develop.  Additionally, pregnant women who are exposed to measles are at risk of delivering a premature, underdeveloped baby.  Less-deadly complications generally include ear or respiratory infections along with persistent diarrhea that can lead to dehydration.  Severe ear infections can result in permanent hearing loss.

Protection

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No matter what you feel about vaccines, in the case of measles, vaccines have proven to be the first and best line of defense from exposure.  However, even a vaccinated person can transmit the virus to others if they come into contact with someone or an object that is infected.  Consequently, in addition to being vaccinated, being vigilant with respect to sanitation is the best way to minimize exposure.  Frequent hand washing or sanitizing after coming into contact with objects in public areas, as well as wearing face masks are simple, yet powerful ways to keep you and your family safe.

If you or someone that you share close-quarters with has been exposed, the best thing to do is to quarantine the individual.  It’s also important that anyone who interacts with the patient wears a face mask, protective eyewear and gloves.  It’s also important that dishes, silverware, bedding, clothing and other items that an infected person comes into contact with is kept separate and properly sanitized before being stored.

While we have been able to keep measles outbreaks under control, there has been a recent resurgence in cases over the past few years.  This illustrates how difficult it is to keep outbreaks at bay under the best of circumstances, let alone during a crisis or SHTF situation. 

Learn more about measles as well as other communicable diseases that may become unleashed in the aftermath of a crisis.  The more you know now will help you to prepare accordingly and minimize risk of exposure if and when that time comes.