Before the MMR vaccine became available, three to four million people contracted measles every year in the United States. The CDC estimates that 400 to 500 people died among reported cases, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 developed brain swelling each year.
While the United States declared measles eliminated from the country in 2000, there are still outbreaks from time to time. In addition, if vaccine coverage levels were to drop, measles could once again become a constant presence.
If you think you've been exposed to someone with measles, you'll benefit from undergoing an MMR titer test to understand if you have immunity.
Defining Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)
One of the first written accounts of measles is from the ninth century by a Persian doctor. However, in 1757, Francis Home, a Scottish doctor, determined that an infection causes measles in the blood.
In 1912, the United States declared measles a nationally notifiable disease, requiring healthcare providers to report diagnosed cases. In that first decade of reporting, approximately 6,000 measles-related deaths were reported each year.
Mumps, also called parotitis, affects the salivary glands. While some people may experience no symptoms, others could have painfully swollen glands, headache, fever, fatigue, and appetite loss. Patients typically recover in about two weeks.
Rubella, also known as German measles, is best recognized by its distinctive red rash. Rubella is highly contagious, and it spreads through close contact or the air. Most illnesses are mild, but the condition can quickly become severe.
Risk Factors and Causes of Measles, Mumps, Rubella
Because measles, mumps, and rubella have generally been eliminated from the United States, there are only a few risk factors. Those factors include the following:
- Not being vaccinated
- Traveling internationally
- Having a vitamin A deficiency
If you think you might have contracted measles, mumps, or rubella, it's important to contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Signs and Symptoms of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella
If someone has contracted measles, their symptoms will start to appear 7 to 21 days after exposure. It starts with a mild to moderate fever, runny nose, sore throat, red eyes, and a cough.
Two to four days after symptoms present, tiny white spots will begin to appear inside the mouth. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash appears, typically on the face. The rash is raised and feels like sandpaper and spreads down the entire body.
When the rash appears, a person's temperature can spike as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms typically last seven to ten days. There is no specific treatment for this illness, but a diagnosis can be confirmed with an MMR blood titer test.
Mumps can cause pain in the swollen salivary glands, pain while chewing, muscle aches, fever, headache, and fatigue. It's important to see a doctor, as mumps is highly contagious for about nine days after symptoms appear.
If left untreated, mumps can cause inflammation in different parts of the body like the testicles, brain, spinal cord, and pancreas.
Rubella presents differently in children and adults. For children with rubella, a red rash is typically the first sign. They may also experience a low-grade fever, headache, general discomfort, and a cough.
In adults, rubella is typically a mild illness that involves a low-grade fever, sore throat, and rash.
Diagnosing Measles, Mumps, and Rubella
Doctors are typically able to diagnose measles based on the distinct characteristics of the disease, like the rash and the white spots on the inside of the cheek. If necessary, a blood test could confirm measles. Physicians will also sometimes test with a throat swab or urine sample.
With a confirmed diagnosis, a patient needs to understand what they need to do to improve their health and protect others. There is no specific treatment for a measles infection, but measures can be taken to protect others who may have been exposed to the virus.
For example, a doctor could order a post-exposure vaccination or immune serum globulin. With either route, measles may be prevented or develop with milder symptoms.
If you suspect you have mumps, your doctor will start by asking if you've been vaccinated against the illness and whether you know of potential exposure. Thye may recommend a blood test to check for evidence of the mumps virus.
A rubella rash can look like a number of other viral rashes. To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor will order laboratory tests. You may have a blood test or a virus culture.
MMR Immunity and the MMR Titer Test
Immunity for measles, mumps, and rubella is most easily achieved with a vaccine. The most common vaccine for measles is MMR, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Research has shown that the vaccine is safe and is the most effective way to have MMR immunity.
Common side effects associated with the vaccine include pain at the injection site, fever, mild rash, and swollen glands in the neck or cheek.
If you're uncertain if you've been vaccinated, you'll benefit from an MMR titer blood test. The MMR antibody titer test checks for immunity to the three illnesses by measuring antibody levels to determine if your immune system can respond to an infection with one of the diseases.
The MMR titer test can also be used, in some instances, as a way to diagnose measles, mumps, or rubella. This is because the presence of certain viral antibodies can be evidence of an infection.
Frequently Asked Questions About MMR
Even with all of the information above, you may still have questions about measles, mumps, and rubella. Keep reading for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
- How do you know if you're protected against MMR?
- The CDC considers a person protected against measles, mumps, and rubella if they received two doses of the MMR vaccine as a school-age child or adult, received one dose of the MMR vaccine if you are a preschool-age child, you were officially diagnosed with measles, mumps, or rubella at some point in your life, or you were born before 1957.
- What should you do if you think you've been exposed to someone with measles, mumps, or rubella?
- If you think you've been exposed to someone with measles, mumps, or rubella, call your healthcare provider to determine if you have a vaccination record on file and whether you need to start certain medications to reduce your risk of developing any of the three diseases.
- What do you do if you test positive for measles, mumps, or rubella?
- If you test positive for measles, mumps, or rubella, you need to stay home for at least four days after you start to develop a rash, practice good hygiene, and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
For more information on MMR, consult your primary care physician.
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