Earlier this year, I found myself in the crowded receiving area of my 8-month- old’s pediatrician’s clinic, waiting along with other worried parents for our turn to get the anti-measles vaccine. Although my child was not necessarily showing symptoms of measles, the DOH had just issued a statement regarding a deadly outbreak of measles (or tigdas) in Metro Manila, which naturally sent shivers down a lot parents’ (with unvaccinated infants) spines.
Sitting there, I couldn’t believe that even in the 21st century we were still experiencing an outbreak of measles – a childhood illness that I thought had been eradicated decades ago. Why are we still waging a war against measles when there’s already a cure? Were we not informed enough of the symptoms of measles to spot it in our own child?
Measles, also known as rubeola, is a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease caused by a virus. The rubeola virus is so potent that being in the same room with someone who has measles in a short span of time, or having face-to-face contact with them, is enough to expose you to the virus. Characterized by a total-body skin rash and flu-like symptoms including a high fever, a runny nose, and a cough, measles can also go to the lungs and central nervous system.
Photo taken by Xinhua of SCMP.com
The measles vaccine
Following the invention of the anti-measles vaccine in the 1960s, the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine was developed and introduced into the market in the 1970s to finally curb the disease in one fell swoop (or shot). Massive measles immunization programs all over the world brought the death toll down, and in the 1980s, measles-related deaths were down to about 70 a year in the United States alone.
With a known cure, worldwide vaccinations, and mandatory immunization programs to prevent measles from spreading any further, why the recent resurgence of measles outbreaks?
The anti-vaccination movement
In 1998, a British doctor published a study that claimed that autism was also caused by the MMR vaccine. When the article was thoroughly investigated, the research was found to be unethical and compromised, and was thus ruled out to be false. In fact, in 2010 the journal that published the anti-vaccine article recanted and publicly admitted that the report was wrong.
Unfortunately, that one fabricated report was enough to power an anti- MMR movement that brought down vaccinations in developed nations and consequently increased the number of measles incidences. Couple that with a third world country like ours still struggling to have a comprehensive public immunization program, and here we are today with yet another global measles outbreak.
Prevention: if there’s a cure, there’s a way
But measles doesn’t have to be deadly precisely because there’s a readily available cure. Thankfully, there’s a new generation of sensible parents who are dutifully giving their infants the MMR vaccine. The Philippine government is getting their act together too, with the DOH implementing a nationwide immunization program that aims to eradicate the disease in 2017.
So get your child (and everyone in your household) vaccinated. The MMR vaccine is administered first to babies between 12 to 15 months and again when they reach 4 to 6 years of age. Infants are generally protected from measles until their 6th month because of immunity passed on from their mothers (who should have had the shot before their pregnancy).
But in times of an outbreak, the individual measles vaccine may be given to a baby 6-11 months old, followed on by the usual MMR immunization. And if there’s an occurrence of measles in your neighborhood or at your kid’s school, make your little one stay home as much as possible.
What do I do if my child has the measles?
Since measles is caused by a virus, there’s no specific medical treatment; the virus simply has to run its average 10-day course. A sick child should be isolated, given plenty of fluids and rest, supportive medicines for the fever, aches, and pains, lots of breast milk if an infant and still breastfeeding, and tons of TLC. A visit to the doctor is also essential to get a proper diagnosis and prevent further respiratory complications. The war on measles can be won if we, as parents who have nothing but their kid’s well being in mind, do our part by staying vigilant and informed. After all,the front line of prevention begins in every home.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mel Lozano
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