Tag: post-exposure prophylaxis

Is Measles Dangerous If You Are Pregnant?

While folks often try and make it seem like measles is a common childhood illness, we know that it can be dangerous.

“One of the patients was a 20-year-old pregnant woman who had rash onset on January 5 following exposure to her 12-year-old brother. After delivering a healthy baby on January 6, the mother developed severe pneumonia that was followed by respiratory arrest. She was resuscitated and transferred to an intensive care unit in a larger hospital nearby in Tennessee.”

Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Transmission of Measles Across State Lines — Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Virginia

Rarely do people who have really had measles describe it as just a fever and a rash. They remember that it was called a harmless killer for a reason.

Is Measles Dangerous If You Are Pregnant?

And there are some situations in which measles can be especially dangerous, including if you get sick when you are very young, very old, or have immune system problems.

Pregnant women should be screened for measles immunity.
Pregnant women should be screened for measles immunity.

And what if you are pregnant when you get measles?

“The Health Department announced today that the number of measles cases has grown to 390, including two pregnant women diagnosed with the infection, one diagnosed in mid-April.”

The Number of Measles Cases Grows to 390

If you are pregnant and you are exposed to someone with measles, you can get IVIG post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent you from actually getting measles, but this typically only works if given within six days of the exposure.

“To date, studies have not identified an increased risk for birth defects when pregnant women get the measles during pregnancy. However, studies suggest that measles infection is associated with an increased risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity and the baby being born with a measles infection.”

When Measles Strike, It’s Not The Happiest Place On Earth For Pregnant Women

Unlike a rubella infection during pregnancy, a measles infection is not thought to cause birth defects. Tragically, it can, like rubella, lead to an increased risk for having a miscarriage.

“Infants who develop congenital measles are at increased risk for mortality and for subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, which is more common when measles is diagnosed in infancy. In addition, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis in newborns infected with measles either congenitally or shortly after birth appears to be more severe, with a shorter latency and rapidly progressive course.”

What Obstetric Health Care Providers Need to Know About Measles and Pregnancy

And if the mother gets measles very late in her pregnancy, it can also lead to a case of congenital measles, or a baby being born with an active measles infection.

“In 52% of cases, measles was likely acquired from a relative. Complications included pneumonia in one child; two pregnant women required hospitalization, including one who miscarried.”

Notes from the Field: Measles Outbreak Among Members of a Religious Community — Brooklyn, New York, March–June 2013

Don’t take the risk that you might get measles while you are pregnant.

Make sure you are vaccinated and protected before you ever start thinking about getting pregnant, as pregnancy is a contraindication to getting the MMR vaccine. And you should wait at least 4 weeks after getting vaccinated before getting pregnant.

More on Measles in Pregnancy

What Should You Do If Your Child Might Have Measles

As you hear more and more about measles outbreaks, eventually you might think that your child has measles.

Why?

Until a child develops the classic measles rash, the symptoms of measles can mimic many other more common viral illnesses, as they include fever, cough, coryza, red eyes, and irritability.

What Should You Do If Your Child Might Have Measles

And while many other viruses can cause a fever and rash, it is really only measles that causes the classic pattern of 3 or 4 days of high fever, followed by the appearance of a rash with continued fever.

Unfortunately, by the time your child has developed the rash, you may have already have gone to the doctor or ER a few times, exposing a lot of people to measles.

If your child has measles, don’t give it to anyone else.

That’s why it’s important to try and recognize measles as early as possible, so that you don’t expose anyone else and get them sick too.

It is especially important to think about measles if your child:

  • traveled out of the country in the past 7 to 21 days, the incubation period for measles
  • recently traveled to or lives in an area that is experiencing measles outbreaks
  • is not yet fully vaccinated, with two doses of MMR, keeping in mind that a small minority of people can get measles even if they are fully vaccinated

So what do you do if your child might have measles?

Ideally, you would call your health care provider, clinic, or emergency room ahead of time and let them know that you are concerned about measles. That allows them to take steps to minimize the risk that your child will expose others to measles.

While the child is isolated, health care professionals can then decide if it is necessary to do further testing for measles. If they do suspect measles, they may even call the local health department for further help.

If necessary, post-exposure prophylaxis might also be provided for the child’s contacts.

What if you aren’t sure if your child has measles? Put a mask on them anyway if there is any doubt! Don’t take a chance on causing a big outbreak.

During some outbreaks, communities have even had to implement universal masking of all patients and all family members to help get their outbreak under control.

And remember that the best way to stop these outbreaks is for everyone to get fully vaccinated on time and on schedule.

More on Measles Exposure Prevention Measures

How to Avoid Getting Caught up in a Measles Outbreak

By now, you have likely heard the news that we are on track for record-breaking numbers of measles cases this year, both in the United States and around the world.

You may also have heard that some of the folks getting caught up in these outbreaks weren’t actually anti-vaccine, but were people who thought they already had measles or thought they were already vaccinated and protected.

How to Avoid Getting Caught up in a Measles Outbreak

Are you and your family protected against measles?

Six ways to avoid measles.

You might be thinking, “of course we are, we get all of our vaccines!”

But you still might want to double check, keeping in mind that:

  • only people born before 1957 are thought to have natural immunity to measles, because measles was very common in the pre-vaccine era
  • the original measles vaccine that was used between 1963 and 1967 was not thought to be effective, so if that’s the only dose you had, it should be repeated
  • a recommendation for a second dose of MMR didn’t come until 1990, so many people born before that time have only had one dose, especially since there was never a catch-up program to make sure older people had two doses. Even now, adults don’t necessarily need two doses of MMR unless they are in a high-risk group (foreign travel, healthcare workers, living with someone who has a compromised immune system, people with HIV, and students).
  • children don’t routinely get their first dose of MMR until they are 12 to 15 months old (one dose is 93% effective at preventing measles), with a second dose at age 4 to 6 years (two doses are 97% effective)
  • a third dose of MMR isn’t typically recommended for measles protection

Still think you and your family are protected?

In addition to routine recommendations, to avoid measles in a more high risk setting (traveling out of the country or during an outbreak), you should:

  • get infants an early MMR, giving them their first dose any time between 6 and 11 months of age (repeating this dose at age 12 to 15 months)
  • get toddlers and preschoolers an early second dose of MMR, giving them their second dose at least 28 days after the routine first dose that they received when they were 12 to 15 months old, instead of waiting until they are 4 to 6 years
  • get older children and adults two doses of MMR if they haven’t already had both doses

What if your baby is exposed to measles before you have a chance to get him vaccinated?

Younger infants who are less than six months old can get a dose of immunoglobulin within 6 days if they are exposed to measles. Older infants, children, and adults can get a dose of MMR within 72 hours if they are not vaccinated and are exposed to someone with measles.

And the very best way to avoid measles is to keep up herd immunity levels of protection in our communities. If everyone is vaccinated and protected, then we won’t have outbreaks and our kids won’t get exposed to measles!

More on Avoiding Measles

Where Are the Latest Chickenpox Outbreaks?

Breaking News – 32 cases at a school in Northern Kentucky (see below)

Chicken pox is a now vaccine-preventable disease thanks to the chicken pox vaccine that was first licensed in 1995.

Despite being added to the childhood immunization schedule in 1996, and the addition of a booster dose in 2007, we do continue to see occasional outbreaks of chicken pox.

Chicken Pox

Although chicken pox is said to have been a rite of passage for kids, it was never something that any of us looked forward to.

At best, you had five to seven days of fever and an itchy rash that covered your body.

“My life changed forever on June 30, 1988, when I had to stand by helplessly as an infectious disease claimed the life of my oldest child, Christopher Aaron Chinnes, at the age of 12.”

Rebecca Cole on Chickenpox Claimed the Life of My Son Christopher

But of course, some people had much more severe cases of chicken pox and some people died.

Chicken Pox Outbreaks

In the pre-vaccine era, before the mid-1990s, most kids got chicken pox.

And chicken pox parties, while not as common as some folks imagine, were definitely a thing, because you didn’t want your child to become an adult and get chicken pox, when it was more dangerous. But since most kids got chicken pox so easily, most got it when they were kids, even without a chicken pox parties, and tragically, many learned that it wasn’t only dangerous to adults.

Why are we still seeing clusters of chicken pox in schools when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?
Why are we still seeing clusters of chicken pox in schools when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?

These days, most cases and outbreaks of chicken pox are in unvaccinated children and adults.

  • 32 cases at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky leading to the quarantine of all unvaccinated students (March 2019)
  • 7 new cases in the outbreak associated with the Asheville Waldorf School in West Asheville, North Carolina, bringing the case count to 41 in that outbreak, including 4 cases in the community as the outbreak continues to spread (Nov 2018)
  • 6 new cases at the Asheville Waldorf School in West Asheville, North Carolina, bringing the case count to 34 in that outbreak (Nov 2018)
  • several students at Hoquiam High School in Hoquiam, Washington (Nov 2018)
  • at least 28 cases at Asheville Waldorf School in West Asheville, North Carolina (Nov 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at Daybreak Primary School in Battle Ground in Clark County, Washington, leading to quarantine of at least 38 unvaccinated students who will be kept out of class for at least 21 days (Oct 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at two schools in Ottawa County, Michigan, including Waukazoo Elementary and Kids First – Early Childhood Center in Jenison, leading to the quarantine of at least 34 children (Oct 2018)
  • a cluster of chicken pox cases in Grant County, Washington at Park Orchard Elementary, North Elementary and Longview Elementary schools (Sept 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at the The Little Red School House Too daycare in Westbrook, Maine (May 2016)

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg though, as there are still about 7,000 to 10,000 chickenpox cases reported in the United States each year. And that’s with some states, like Oregon and Washington, not reporting cases of this Nationally Notifiable Condition to the CDC.

Cognitive dissonance helps explain how these folks try to explain that chicken pox isn't dangerous.
Cognitive dissonance helps explain how these folks try to explain that chicken pox isn’t dangerous.

Still, since chicken pox caused a few hundred deaths and at least 10,000 hospitalizations each year less than twenty-five years ago, that’s a lot of progress.

Getting Chicken Pox

How do you get chicken pox?

Since it is very contagious, if your child is exposed to someone with chicken pox or shingles, then they might develop chicken pox in about 10 to 21 days (incubation period).

Of course, if they vaccinated and protected, then they probably won’t, although mild, breakthrough chicken pox infections are still possible in vaccinated kids.

Their risk is higher if they:

  • are unvaccinated, either intentionally, because they have a true medical exemption, or because they are too young for the vaccine, which is first given when kids are 12-months-old
  • are partially vaccinated, with only one dose of the chicken pox vaccine
  • have a problem with their immune system, including kids getting chemotherapy

In addition to being at risk for chicken pox, non-immune pregnant women, newborns born to women who develop chicken pox at around the time of delivery, premature babies, and those are immunocompromised can be at risk for severe disease.

Avoiding Chicken Pox

Want to avoid chicken pox and the chance of ending up in a chicken pox quarantine and having to stay out of school for 3 weeks or more?

Get your kids vaccinated.

That’s not an option for some kids with true medical exemptions though, including most kids who are immunocompromised. When they get caught up in one of these outbreaks and get exposed to chicken pox, it becomes a matter of life and death to work to try and prevent their getting chicken pox.

More on Chicken Pox Outbreaks

Updated on March 14, 2019