Measles is an incredibly contagious disease - if one person has it, nine out of 10 people around him will also be infected if they are not protected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.
Those at high risk of severe illness and complications from measles, such as pneumonitis (lung inflammation), encephalitis (brain inflammation) and keratitis (eye inflammation), include infants and children aged below five. Adults who are not vaccinated can get measles if they come into contact with infected individuals as well.
Most people who are infected with measles do eventually recover completely, but a small group may develop serious complications.
The best way to prevent measles? Vaccination.
"This confers almost 97 per cent protection and will protect the individual for life," said Dr Chan Poh Chong, head and senior consultant, division of general ambulatory paediatrics and adolescent medicine at the National University Hospital.
Fourteen out of 34 measles cases reported in children here in the first 20 weeks of this year occurred because they had missed their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) recently. The children were aged one to six years old.
In Singapore, the MMR vaccine is compulsory and is given to children in two doses - the first at 12 months of age and the second at 15 to 18 months. (Those who missed the second dose would have some but not adequate protection, and still risk getting infected with measles!)
Vaccination is not recommended for babies, who usually carry antibodies that their mothers have passed them. "These antibodies can interfere with some live vaccines, like the MMR, and prevent a proper response to the vaccine to adequately prevent infections," said Dr Chan Poh Chong, head and senior consultant, division of general ambulatory paediatrics and adolescent medicine at the National University Hospital.
Those who had measles as a child or had previously received two doses of MMR do not need to be vaccinated again either.
The vaccine can be given even after a person has been infected with measles, as it can help to reduce the severity and period of infection, said Dr Chan. "The measles incubation period can be for up to three weeks and activating the immune system early with vaccination can stop or reduce the severity of the disease."
However, there are parents who refuse the MMR shots out of the mistaken belief that the vaccination can cause developmental delay and learning disorders like autism, said Dr Chan.
But he busts this myth - many studies have concluded that MMR does not cause autism and the benefits of preventing measles or mumps and rubella infections far outweigh any possible risk from the vaccination.
By Joyce Teo, The Straits Times, 7 June 2016
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