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MMR vaccine is a combined vaccine to protect children against measles, mumps, and rubella, which are dangerous and potentially deadly diseases. Alternative names are rubella vaccination, mumps vaccination, vaccine-MMR.
The MMR, which does not contain mercury, consists of live viruses that have been weakened (attenuated) so that the vaccine is still capable of inducing a productive immune response but does not cause the disease that the original or "wild-type" viruses can. The MMR vaccine is a mix of three vaccines: attenuvax (measles), mumpsvax (mumps), and meruvax II (rubella).
The three-in-one MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Although single antigen (individual) vaccines are available for each part of the MMR, they are only used in specific situations, in which one of the three diseases occurs and public health officials decide to immunize infants six to 15 months of age for that particular disease. (Single antigen vaccines pose less risk to children younger than the recommended age of 15 months for the MMR.)
Before vaccination, epidemics of measles peaked in the spring every two to four years. Measles is an endemic disease in many undeveloped countries and in countries where measles immunization levels are low. Because the risk of contracting measles in other countries is greater than in the United States, infants and children should be as well protected as possible before traveling.
Measles is caused by a virus that grows in the nose, mouth, throat, and the eyes, and in their secretions. It is highly communicable and may not be recognized early because the symptoms often resemble cold symptoms. The incubation period is 10 to 11 days. Measles begins with slight temperature rise and a runny nose and eyes. About the second or third day, blush-white pinpoint spots with a red rim, known as Koplick's spots, appear in the mouth. Small dark red pimples appear on the head and spread gradually over the body. These pimples grow larger and in groups, giving a blotchy appearance, which is an important difference between measles and scarlet fever. In scarlet fever, the skin appears red all over.
The respiratory symptoms grow worse. The child sneezes often, the eyes are sore, and nasal secretion becomes purulent. Light hurts the eyes (photophobia). The child's throat is sore. The rash is greatest about the fourth day, and it may last up to ten days. During the second week, the skin begins to flake off, and it continues to do so for five to ten days.
Treatment is limited to combating the symptoms of measles because antiviral drugs as of 2004 are ineffective. The disease has serious possible complications. For example, encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord) occurs in one to two cases out of 1000 patients; the disease is fatal at that same rate. Immune globulin injections help prevent or reduce measles infection if given within six days of exposure. Complications can be brought on by measles. Encephalitis occurs in one out of 6000 cases; 20 percent of these infections are fatal. Thrombocytopenic purpura (skin hemorrhages because of decreased platelet count) occur in one out of 3000 cases.
Author Info: Aliene Linwood R.N., DPA, FACHE, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006
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