Would you know if your child has measles? How about mumps? Do you know what symptoms to look for? Probably not. This is because today’s children don’t typically garner immunity to these diseases by having them. Instead, most children are vaccinated. The result is that vaccines are a victim of their own success. Because they do such a good job of preventing these diseases, today’s parents, unlike previous generations, don’t often see the symptoms or the effects of diseases like measles and mumps.
For example, people with mumps typically have swollen glands below the ear in addition to more general symptoms such as body aches, headache and a low-grade fever. People with mumps are usually ill for about 10 days. Possible complications from mumps infection can include meningitis, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), orchitis or oophoritis (swelling of the testicle or ovaries, respectively), pancreatitis, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), and deafness.
Measles, on the other hand, typically begins as small white spots on the cheeks inside the mouth, known as Koplik’s spots, and one or two days later progresses to include a red rash starting at the hairline and spreading to the body over a period of three to four days. In addition, people with measles typically feel really sick and tend to have high fever, fatigue and a cough. Measles typically lasts about six days. Complications from measles can include pneumonia, ear infections, encephalitis, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE, a rare, progressive neurological disorder that can occur in people who had measles, often years after the original infection, and is invariably fatal), and death (1 in 500 cases).
In the case of both measles and mumps, the reality is that although children in the U.S. are less likely to be exposed to these infections, they still can be — probably even more quickly than a parent might realize. This point was driven home recently when separate incidents were reported.
First, in late February, more than 230,000 people attended a national cheerleading competition in Dallas, TX, where someone was infected with mumps. More than 25,000 of the attendees, including athletes and coaches from nine states and nine countries, were considered to have been exposed to mumps. The second incident related to measles and occurred in mid-March. Two separate travelers infected with measles arrived at airports in Detroit, MI, Newark, NJ, and Memphis, TN, from international destinations. Because measles virus can hang in the air for up to two hours after the infected person has left, other travelers in the same areas of the airport as the infected travelers could have been exposed.
While “out of sight, out of mind” is a common phrase, it’s important not to become complacent about vaccine decisions. The reason today’s parents don’t see the harmful effects of diseases like measles and mumps is because vaccines allow us that luxury.
Read more about the incidents referenced above via media reports:
Mumps Q&A – English | Spanish (PDF)
Measles Q&A – English | Spanish (PDF)
Infectious Diseases & Travel Q&A (PDF)
Vaccinated or Unvaccinated Q&A (PDF)
Vaccine Considerations for Travelers (Webpage)