For one thing, measles should not be a thing in 2019. The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine has a 97% rate of complete immunization to measles, but because of a discredited paper claiming a connection between the vaccine and autism, “anti-vaxxers” shun the vaccine and claim the disease is actually beneficial. It is anything but.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world, and 90% of the unvaccinated people who have been in the same room with an infected person will also contract measles. Measles is also one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable deaths worldwide.
Oral spots caused by measles. Source: Dctrzl
The measles virus is airborne and travels mainly through coughing and sneezing of infected individuals. Symptoms typically take 10-12 days to manifest and include a high (40 °C/ 104 °F) fever, cough, runny nose and “pink eye” initially. Around three days after, white spots may appear within the mouth, followed by a red rash that typically spreads from the face to the rest of the body.
The real danger with measles aren’t the fever or rash. Measles attack the immune system, weakening the body to the measles virus itself, but also to a wide array of other infections. Because of this, the most vulnerable populations are those with already weaker immune systems, including children below the age of 5, pregnant women, the elderly and sick people with a compromised immune system, such as people with leukemia and HIV. Infected adults over the age of 20 are at the highest risk of measles-related complications.
What are some of the more serious complications associated with measles?
Pneumonia is the most common serious complication of measles and is the leading cause of infant measles-related death, either caused by the measles virus itself, or by bacteria, through the weakening of the immune system brought on by the virus.
Inflammation of the eyes can cause corneal ulceration, which may ultimately result in long-term loss of vision in one or both eyes. According to a 2004 study, measles is the cause of between 15,000-60,000 cases of blindness every year.
In about 10% of cases, infected individuals will develop an ear infection and accumulation of liquid in the middle ear, which can cause membrane perforation of the eardrum and temporary or long-term hearing loss in severe or untreated cases.
Brain damage, coma and death
Among the most severe complications of measles is an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Around 1-3 in 1,000 infected children will contract encephalitis. Of those, mortality rate stands at around 10-15%, and 25% will in incur permanent brain damage.
A particularly harsh (and thankfully rare) brain inflammation caused by measles is subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a progressive degenerative inflammation that is nearly always fatal, with only a 5% chance of temporary or long-term remission. Death from SSPE typically occurs within 1-3 years, but can also happen within months, and is preceded by coma. Worst of all, SSPE triggers 6-10 years after the initial measles infection.
There is no reason to tempt fate with a disease that is 97% preventable, and absolutely no reason to put other people, particularly those with weaker immune systems, at risk. Vaccination isn’t just a good idea, it’s a life-saver.