The measles virus — one of the world’s most contagious infectious diseases — has reached crisis levels in the United States. A 25-year high of more than 700 cases is largely attributed to unvaccinated international travelers bringing the virus back to the states, coupled with misinformation about the measles vaccine.

Keck Medicine of USC experts discuss the risks associated with measles, along with steps to prevent and, if necessary, treat the disease.

Contact: Cynthia Smith — [email protected], (323) 442-3811

Debunking myths and promoting the value of vaccinations

“Measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000,” says Neha Nanda, MD, hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship, Keck Medicine of USC. “It’s devastating to see a measles outbreak result from a lack of immunization, as the currently available vaccine is 97% effective when the two recommended doses are taken.”

“Most measles outbreaks in the last few years, and the recent outbreaks in NY and Washington, are related to poor vaccination coverage. This may be due to lack of awareness, combined with inaccurate and discredited claims regarding vaccines."

Neha Nanda, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC

Understanding the disease’s course 

“When you’re infected with the measles virus, symptoms don’t appear for seven to 14 days. As a result, the virus is spread before you’re even aware you have it,” says Armand Dorian, MD, chief medical officer, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.

“The risk of measles transmission is very high 90 percent of people will get infected if they are not immune and come into contact with the virus. You can unknowingly spread the virus to high-risk groups, including young children, older adults, immune-compromised patients or anyone who is unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. This represents a potentially huge societal threat.”

Armand Dorian, MD, associate professor of clinical emergency medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC

Serious complications can affect the eye

“Measles can infect the body’s mucous membranes, which may include the surface of the eye (the conjunctiva). It may become inflamed, resulting in redness, irritation and watering,” says Brian Toy, MD, a specialist in the retina and inflammatory eye diseases at USC Roski Eye Institute.

“Other parts of the eye may be affected too, including the cornea, retina and optic nerve. In severe cases, scarring and nerve loss can reduce vision or cause blindness.  In fact, measles has been a leading cause of childhood blindness worldwide.”

Someone with measles who has eye pain, redness or vision changes should contact an ophthalmologist for early detection and treatment of potentially serious eye problems.”

Brian Toy, MD, assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology, Keck School of Medicine of USC


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