Is it measles? – Diagnosis and management for the pediatric provider


Should you transfer the patient to a hospital?

Unless there is a medical need for the child to be admitted, sending a patient with potential measles to the hospital is not necessary, and can cause exposure to a large group of medical personnel, and patients who cannot be vaccinated (such as infants, immunocompromised patients, and pregnant women). However, if there is concern for complications such as seizures, encephalitis, or pneumonia, then transfer is indicated. Call the accepting hospital in advance so the staff can prepare for the patient. During transfer, place a standard face mask on the patient and instruct the patient not to remove it.

Dr. Emily Willner, Children's National Medical Center, Washington

Dr. Emily Willner

For hospitals accepting a suspected measles case, meet the patient outside of the facility and ensure that the patient is wearing a standard face mask. All staff interacting with the patient should practice contact and airborne precautions (N95 respirator mask). Take the patient directly to an isolation room with negative airflow. Caution pregnant staff that they should not have contact with the patient.

Which diagnostic tests should you use?

Diagnosis can be made based on serum antibody tests (measles IgM and IgG), throat or urine viral cultures, and nasopharyngeal and throat specimen polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. The CDC recommends obtaining a serum sample for measles IgM testing and a throat swab for PCR in all suspected cases, but local health departments vary in their specific testing recommendations. Familiarize yourself with the tests recommended by your local department of health, and where they prefer testing on outpatients to be done. Confirmed measles should be reported to your department of health.

What are considerations for community pediatric offices?

Update families in emails to call ahead if they suspect measles. This way the office can prepare a room for the family, and have the family immediately brought back without exposing staff and other families in the waiting area. It may be more prudent to examine these children at the end of the clinic day as the virus can persist for up to 2 hours on fomites and in the air. Therefore, all waiting areas and shared air spaces (including those with shared air ducts) should be cleared for 2 hours after the patient leaves.

When should you provide prophylaxis after exposure?

A patient with suspected measles does not require immediate vaccination. If it is measles, it is already too late to vaccinate. If measles is ruled out, the child should follow the standard measles vaccination guidelines.

Individuals are contagious from 4 days before to 4 days after the rash appears.

If measles is confirmed, all people who are unvaccinated or undervaccinated and were exposed to the confirmed case during the contagious period should be vaccinated within 72 hours of exposure. Infants 6 months or older may safely receive the MMR vaccine. However, infants vaccinated with MMR before their first birthday must be vaccinated again at age 12-15 months (greater than 28 days after prior vaccine) and at 4-6 years. Immunoglobulin prophylaxis should be given intramuscularly in exposed infants ages birth to less than 6 months, and in those ages 6-12 months who present beyond the 72-hour window. Unvaccinated or undervaccinated, exposed individuals at high risk for complications from measles (immunocompromised, pregnant) also should receive immunoglobulin.

What should you tell traveling families?

Several countries have large, ongoing measles outbreaks, including Israel, Ukraine, and the Philippines. Before international travel, infants 6-11 months should receive one dose of MMR vaccine, and children 12 months and older need two doses separated by at least 28 days. For unvaccinated or undervaccinated children, consider advising families to hold off travel to high-risk countries, or understand the indications to vaccinate a child upon return.

Dr. Angelica DesPain is a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. She said she has no relevant financial disclosures. Dr. Emily Willner is a pediatric emergency medicine attending at Children’s National Medical Center, and an assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at George Washington University, Washington. She has no relevant financial disclosures.


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