• By Deborah Balzer

Infectious Diseases A-Z: The 3 Cs of measles

April 22, 2019

Since January, there have been more than 555 reports of measles infection in the U.S. compared to 372 cases for all of 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Measles is a viral infection that can present in a number of ways, typically referred to as the three Cs: cough, coryza and conjunctivitis, plus fever and then a rash," says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic. Measles in highly contagious and spread through coughing and sneezing.

Watch: Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse explains the three Cs of measles.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please "Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network."

Initial symptoms of measles include:

  • Dry cough 
  • Coryza - running nose
  • Conjunctivitis - inflamed watery eyes (pink eye)
  • High fever

"The typical rash progression usually starts at the head and works its way down, but that doesn’t happen in all cases. Kids can feel quite miserable, like with many other viral infections, but there are some serious complications that can develop as well," says Dr. Rajapakse.

Complications from measles can range from an ear infection or diarrhea to more severe medical problems such as encephalitis. Dr. Rajapakse says measles can cause "Inflammation or swelling in the brain that can leave someone with lasting neurologic or brain damage. It can cause inflammation or swelling in the heart or lungs as well."

The severe complications can be long-lasting and possibly lead to death. The CDC says out of 1,000 children infected with measles, one or two children will die.

"It's completely unnecessary because we have an excellent vaccine that prevents this infection," says Dr. Rajapakse. "We know that one dose of  measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is about 93% effective. Two doses, which is the recommendation, is about 97% effective. Any childhood case of measles or death from measles is completely preventable at this point."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all children get two doses of MMR vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12–15 months and the second dose at ages 4–6.

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