You may have heard the recent news about the Southwest passenger who was diagnosed with the measles and may have exposed other flyers on Texas flights last month. It is a familiar scenario seen in zombie movies – one sick person coughs, the virus goes through the circulated air, and those newly infected people go onto other parts of the world doing the same until many are affected. Public health officials are concerned because 90% of susceptible people who are exposed to the measles will catch it.

Measles does not make you into a zombie, but here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • fever up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • red eyes
  • a rash that starts from the head and spreads down to the body
  • very fussy child

With Tylenol and rest, most people get better. Sometimes doctors will prescribe some Vitamin A as well. Symptoms begin improving around 2 days after the rash appears. The rash turns brown and sometimes peels off like a sunburn. The cough can linger on for an extra week or so.

Why should we care if people get better on their own most of the time?

One out of every 1,000 people will get serious side effects from the measles. Measles cause long-term problems with your lungs, ears and brain. One of the worst complications is encephalitis, which is the swelling of the brain and can lead to death. One of every 1,000 developing complications might not sound like a lot but with the quick spread of the disease, the number of people affected can grow exponentially. Measles is VERY contagious. In addition to the above complications, measles can also cause pregnant women to miscarry or have a baby too early. Another common long-term complication is sterility in males who contract the disease.

Luckily for us in Texas, most people are vaccinated and thus have immunity against the disease. Those we need to look out for are young babies, pregnant women, the population that is not immunized, and people on chemotherapy or with weakened immune systems. With all these efforts, it is still possible that we will continue to see a higher prevalence of measles in our communities in the future due to decreased immunizations rates and an increased population globalization.

What should you do if you have been exposed to the measles?

A person sick with the measles can spread it 5 days before their rash appears and for up to 4 days after their rash disappears. If you have been around someone around that timeline and aren’t vaccinated, you can speak with your doctor about a possible post-exposure vaccine. The measles incubation time is around 21 days, so it can take up to that long before symptoms of the measles start showing in your body. Always go see your doctor if you see any symptoms occur.