The Measles Outbreak: Experts Offer Advice for Parents of Infants

Fears grow among parents after five infants at an Illinois daycare got the highly contagious disease

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Earlier this week, five infants at an Illinois daycare center were diagnosed with measles, fueling fears of parents with babies too young to vaccinate for the disease.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends infants should receive their first measles vaccination at 12 months old and a booster between ages 4 and 6.

Since the Disneyland measles outbreak in December, more than 100 people across 14 states have been affected by the highly contagious disease.

Now, California state lawmakers are proposing a bill to strengthen the state’s vaccine laws by eliminating an exemption based on personal belief.

Meanwhile, the Palatine KinderCare Learning Center in Cook County, Illinois, where the five infants got the measles, got a deep and thorough cleaning of the facility Wednesday night and is taking other steps as well, officials say.

“Our health department has required that anyone unvaccinated in that particular KinderCare remain excluded for 21 days,” Amy Poore-Terrell, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Department of Public Health, tells PEOPLE.

“As for those who have measles, they’re infectious for four days before getting a rash and four days after getting a rash so they have to wait until the rash is gone and get a doctor’s note to be cleared to go back,” she says.

Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke to PEOPLE about what worried parents should do.

Should babies under 12 months get vaccinated?

There are some guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics that say that infants can be vaccinated with an MMR as early as six months of age if they are traveling abroad to an endemic area. So the question is, would we consider the outbreak in West Los Angeles an endemic area? It’s not clear-cut, but you can get vaccinated with an MMR as early as six months of age, but it should be on a case-by-case basis.

Should you take unvaccinated children out of daycare?

The very young babies should still be protected from their mom’s antibodies from when they’re born. Mom’s antibodies last until around four months of age. So it’s really these six to 12-month-old infants that are most vulnerable and most at risk for catching measles. If there is measles in your area and you are able to pull them out of daycare and keep them home, I would recommend it because measles is highly contagious. I think we’re going to see more outbreaks at childcare facilities, where it’s just going to spread like wildfire.

Aside from getting the vaccine, what’s the best way to protect a child in this vulnerable stage?

Normal illness or disease prevention is typically good – hand washing, staying away from people who are sick and keeping kids home when they’re sick – because measles floats through the air and can also stay on surfaces. If your baby is still young enough to breastfeed, that will also protect against all illnesses.

If your child has been vaccinated, are they still at risk?

If your child has had both vaccines, they should be 99% protected against measles.

What advice are you giving all your mom friends and concerned patients?

I think if your child is vaccinated you don’t need to worry, but I’d like to encourage those who maybe were on the fence or were maybe delaying vaccines to get vaccines as soon as possible.

Anything else you think parents should keep in mind?

Moms keep coming up to me and saying, ‘Do you think it’s safe if we go to Disneyland?’ Especially with spring break coming up, everyone wants to know if it’s safe to go to Disneyland or to other amusement parks. If you have a child that’s been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine, then I think it is, but I would be hesitant to take a child who has not had the MMR vaccine to a large public gathering place.

What about people in other areas of the country where there’s not such a distinct point of contact with the disease? Should young kids and babies in those areas also stay indoors as much as possible?

I would try to keep them home as much as possible. We typically recommend keeping newborns under three months of age at home as much as possible, and I think now with the measles outbreak, I would consider extending that and recommending that my patients and friends do keep their infants of any age at home as much as possible.

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