Measles Outbreak in Florida – What Parents in Miami-Dade County Should Know

Female doctor checking the chest of a girl patient

By: Miranda Torres; Marisa Paola Orbea, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist, Holtz Children’s Hospital; and Lisa Gwynn, MD, pediatrician, Holtz Children’s Hospital

In the past week, Florida has seen an uptick in measles cases, with nine confirmed cases in Broward County, 10 in total throughout the state. As healthcare professionals try to pinpoint the main cause for the outbreak, here is what our Jackson Health System pediatric team wants Miami-Dade County parents to know to keep their child healthy and protected.

1. What is “measles” and what risks does it pose to children?
Measles is a virus that is very contagious and can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than 5 years old. Even in previously healthy kids, measles can cause severe illness and hospitalization. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as one to three of every 1,000 children who become infected with measles will die from neurological or respiratory complications.

2. How is measles spread?
Measles is spread through the air by breathing, coughing, or sneezing. It can be transmitted four days before a rash becomes visible to four days after the rash appears. Measles symptoms generally begin approximately eight to 14 days after a person is exposed to the virus, with a range of seven to 21 days.
Your child can get measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, even up to two hours after that person has left.

3. What are common measles symptoms and what are the warning signs parents should look for?
Some common measles symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose, red or watery eyes, and rash (three to five days after symptoms begin). Warning signs include prolonged fever, fever that goes away for 48 hours and then returns, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and decreased urination.
Your child may also experience a rash, inflammation of the respiratory tract, pink eye, and/or Koplik spots (tiny white spots with bluish-white centers found inside the mouth).

4. How can parents help prevent their child from contracting measles?
Two doses of MMR vaccine provides the best protection against measles for your child (the first dose at 12 through 15 months old, the second dose at 4 through 6 years old).
If your child is not yet eligible for the vaccine, prevent infection by avoiding exposure with anyone known or suspected to have measles. Do NOT intentionally expose children to measles. The MMR vaccine is the best and safest way of developing immunity and preventing infection.
Vaccination is safe and prevents measles-related complications and death. Two doses are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles, one dose is about 93 percent effective.

5. If my child is immunized against measles, can they still contract the virus?
If your child has received all recommended measles vaccine doses, it is unlikely that they will get infected with the virus.

6. What complications can occur from a measles infection?
Common measles complications include ear infections and diarrhea. Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). As many as one out of every 20 kids with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.

7. What are the treatment options?
There is no specific antiviral therapy for measles. If a child is not vaccinated and exposed to measles, families should discuss possible measures to prevent their child from getting infected with their healthcare provider.

8. How long are you contagious if you contract measles?
An infected person can spread measles to others even before knowing they have the disease—from four days before developing the measles rash through four days afterward. Immunocompromised patients who may have prolonged shedding of the virus can be contagious for the duration of the illness.

9. What are the long-term effects of measles?
Measles can cause brain swelling, which could lead to brain damage and/or deafness. Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a rare, but fatal degenerative disease of the brain characterized by behavioral and intellectual deterioration and seizures that generally develop seven to 10 years after measles infection. The risk of developing SSPE may be higher for a person who gets measles before they are 2 years old. Several recent studies have also shown that children who have had measles have long-term weakened immune responses to other infections. Some cases can even be lethal.

10. What now?
If you suspect your child may have been exposed to measles or is exhibiting symptoms reach out to their primary care doctor and get instructions. In the vast majority of cases, measles in an otherwise healthy child is self-limited, meaning they will recover with only supportive care like over the counter medicines. Anyone suspected of having measles should be kept home until instructions come from their doctor.

Beginning Monday, March 11, Jackson will be offer free MMR vaccinations with proof of insurance (copays may apply) on a walk-in basis at all UHealth Jackson Urgent Care centers and most of our primary care clinics throughout Miami-Dade County, excluding the Prevention, Education, and Treatment (P.E.T.) Center in Miami Beach. For those who want to pay out of pocket, the cost of the MMR vaccine at our Jackson sites will be $120.

The Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Miami-Dade and UHealth – University of Miami Health System’s SHOTZ-2-GO! mobile unit also provide free vaccines to children, from infancy to 18 years old. Click here to learn more about the DOH’s offerings, and here to view UHealth’s mobile unit schedule, which includes several upcoming visits at local schools.