'My 9-Month-Old's Battle With Measles Was a Horrifying Ordeal'

measlesWith measles spreading across the US, parents are worried and may also be wondering what it's really like if your kid catches this highly contagious disease. Mandy Harbarger, a stay-at-home mom of four who lives near Knoxville, Tennessee, knows all too well: her oldest son, C., caught measles two years ago when he was just 9 months old.


At that time measles was so rare, it was the furthest thing from Mandy's mind the day she picked up C. from daycare. All she noticed was that he had a slight fever, but she chalked that up to the fact that he was teething. Then as she was feeding him dinner, C.'s condition quickly grew worse.

"He started having a seizure," Mandy recalls. "So I took him out of his high chair and called 911. It was horrifying."

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A short ambulance ride later, they were at the hospital, where C.'s seizure subsided on its own. After a thorough examination, doctors surmised that the seizure was fever-related -- C.'s temperature was 103 -- but assured Mandy that her son probably just "had a cold" and would get better on his own.

Mandy, however, wasn't convinced. The next day, she took her son to a different family practitioner who came highly recommended through friends.

"The first thing he did was check the back of my son's throat," Mandy recalls. "Then he showed me how it was covered in white blisters. He told me my son had measles. I was like, 'Kids still get that?'"

While measles is rare today, the doctor warned Mandy that the disease could be fatal: high fever, seizures, vomiting, ear infections, and dehydration could all occur; if these symptoms were severe enough, her son would have to return to the hospital. "I realized oh my God, my son could die from this," she says.

Measles is also considered the most contagious disease there is: according to Kevin Polsley, MD, a pediatrician at Loyola University Health System, if you're in the same room as someone who's infected, you face a 90 percent chance of catching it yourself if you're unvaccinated.

At 9 months, C. was too young to have received the measles vaccine, the MMR, which is typically administered at 12 months of age. While Mandy isn't sure to this day where he caught it, the likely culprit in her mind was his daycare.

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"It's the only place he could have picked it up," she says. Mandy called the daycare provider, who denied that anyone else had reported having measles or was sick in any way, but Mandy didn't believe her and withdrew her son from the facility, which inexplicably shut down shortly after this incident.

After C.'s diagnosis, Mandy stayed home with him for six days.

"The doctor had told me there was no treatment, that I'd just have to ride it out," she says. She gave him Tylenol to reduce the fever and used a throat-numbing spray so her son her could eat. Within two days, the white blisters she'd seen in his throat started popping up all over his body.

"He looked like a leopard," she recalls. "Luckily the spots weren't itchy like chicken pox, but he still wasn't very comfortable. It was as if he had the flu, only 10 times worse. He was projectile vomiting a few times a day, just like on The Exorcist. Two days in, he had another seizure. It was terrifying to see as a mother, knowing there was nothing I could do to help my child."

Slowly, C.'s condition improved. And luckily, the only other kids Mandy knew who'd been around C. recently were older and vaccinated and therefore not at risk. 

So what does Mandy want other parents to know about measles? For one, the symptoms aren't necessarily what you think they are. "It's not just a bunch of spots," she says. "It can really make your kid sick and maybe even die."

And while Mandy had always vaccinated her kids on schedule, this experience has driven home to her just how important they are to get done -- especially now that she's caring for 3-month-old triplets.

"I have relatives who don't vaccinate," Mandy says. "And I tell them, 'Don't bring your kids around mine!' I think it's highly irresponsible."

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Last but not least, Mandy has learned to trust her motherly instincts rather than blindly accept what doctors say, since her persistence is what helped her son get an accurate diagnosis. 

"Don't just take your pediatrician's word for it," she says. "Measles isn't something they deal with every day, but I'm glad I used my motherly instincts to get some answers."

According to the CDC, symptoms of measles generally appear about 7 to 14 days after contact with an infected individual. It typically starts with a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes, followed two to three days later with white spots in the mouth, then a bumpy red or white rash all over the body.

How worried are you that your kids could catch measles?


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