Measles may lead to serious, fatal complications not often associated with the disease, a new study finds.
Almost a third of all reported cases of measles have complications such as pneumonia, hepatitis and viral meningitis, according to the study, published Monday in the medical journal BMJ Case Reports. The authors describe three cases of adult measles with additional complications as a direct result of the infection.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory viral infection most frequently associated with fever, cough and rash. Since it suppresses the body’s immune system, it makes people vulnerable to complications in every organ of the body, the researchers said.
Though the disease and its complications are preventable with a vaccine, the researchers said anti-vaccination campaigns have contributed to an increase in cases in children and adults. Research shows complications occur most commonly in people under 5 or above 20 years old.
People should be especially wary now since it is peak flu season, according to Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. With the novel coronavirus gaining a foothold in the US and flu cases still increasing, a triple epidemic in the US is possible, he said.
“It is hard to try to put the genie back in the bottle once you have an epidemic.” Hotez said. “If you have measles, coronavirus, plus the flu, it’s hard to fight that.”
In the past year, 1,282 cases of measles were reported in the US, the greatest number since 1992.
In addition to the US, the reemergence of measles is a global phenomenon with ongoing outbreaks in countries including Madagascar, Nigeria and Ukraine. More than 140,000 people across the globe died from measles last year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
“With the current global outbreak of measles, we emphasise the importance of an immunisation history,” the researchers wrote in their report. “Urgent efforts are needed to ensure global coverage.”
Full coverage requires both doses of the measles vaccine, according to the researchers. One of the reported cases of measles complicated by hepatitis received only one dose of the two-dose measles vaccine in childhood. In the other two cases in the study, which resulted in appendicitis and viral meningitis, there was no reported history of measles vaccinations.
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The report is an important reminder of why measles should be taken seriously, Hotez said. He explained that many people incorrectly believe measles is a benign disease.
“Measles is a bad actor,” he said. “This article reinforces how terrible a disease measles is … and why we need to vaccinate our kids.”
CNN’s Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.