9 December 2022 | Science conversation
Vismita Gupta-SmithIs measles making a comeback? How concerned should we be and what can parents do to protect their children? Hello and welcome to Science in 5. I'm Vismita Gupta-Smith. We are talking to Dr. Patrick O'Connor today. Welcome, Patrick. Let's start with the disease, measles. Tell us about it. Is it making a comeback?
Dr. Patrick O'ConnorThank you, Vismita. Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by the measles virus. It is easily spread through the air by an infected person coughing or sneezing. And symptoms typically include fever and rash. Complications of measles infection are common and can range from mild ones, such as diarrhea to extremely serious ones like pneumonia and brain inflammation. Measles is a serious disease. And before the measles vaccine was introduced in the early 1960s and commonly used, there are an estimated 2 million deaths attributed to measles every year. And this was mostly in children.
Patrick, why are we seeing a resurgence of measles and how concerned should we be?
Dr. Patrick O'Connor
The interventions that we put in place for the COVID 19 pandemic, such as mask wearing, teleworking and travel restrictions, also slowed the transmission of other respiratory diseases, including measles. And as those restrictions are being eased, we are seeing an increase in the number of measles cases being reported, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. This is particularly worrisome because there's been an increase in the number of children that have missed their routine measles doses due to disruptions of health care services during the COVID 19 pandemic.
In 2021, there were an estimated 25 million children that missed their first dose of measles vaccines. In 2019, that was 20 million. And if you remember, we had the largest outbreaks of measles that we've seen in two decades in 2019. In order to prevent a repeat of 2019, we need to make sure that those that have missed their measles vaccine get vaccinated.
Vismita Gupta-SmithPatrick, what can parents do to protect their children from measles?
Dr. Patrick O'Connor
The best protection against measles is being vaccinated. The measles vaccine is safe and effective, and since its introduction, billions of doses have been given globally, preventing serious illness and death. Even if you or your child has missed one of the scheduled measles doses, it's not a problem. You can get vaccinated right now. It's important to remember that being vaccinated against measles also protects all of your other immunizations. An added benefit of being vaccinated is that you are also protecting your family and members of your community from getting measles.
And this is particularly important for those that are too young to get vaccinated or those who are sick or immunocompromised. If you have specific questions or concerns about measles or the timing of the measles vaccination, I would suggest that you have a conversation with your trusted health care provider.
Vismita Gupta-SmithThank you, Patrick. That was Science in 5 today. Until next time then, stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.