Mumps, Measles and Mom and Dad

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You’ve been adulting for quite some time now, so the thought of catching a “childhood” sickness is the furthest thing from your mind. But you might be surprised that a disease you could have gotten in elementary school may be a threat to you and your family now.

If you thought you were in the clear because you didn’t get the chicken pox in third grade, you may be in for a scary surprise. Here are basic tips to keeping childhood sicknesses from your adult home.

Measles is distinguished by a rash that typically spreads over a child’s body accompanied by flu-like symptoms and fever. Adults can also get this highly contagious disease. In fact, measles cases in the U.S. are at a 15-year high, due mostly to international travel. Often, adults become sicker than children and have a higher risk of complications or possibly even death.

Chicken Pox
Chicken pox can happen to adults, and people who have a weakened immune system, such as the elderly or someone already sick, are susceptible to developing dangerous complications. Symptoms include fever and itchy spots or blisters all over the body. While the illness is typically mild and runs its course in about ten days, it can cause serious problems when teens and adults get it. Adults who never had chicken pox can easily catch it from an infected child’s coughs and sneezes.

Whooping Cough
We hear a lot about whooping cough, technically pertussis. The “whoop” stems from a high-pitched wheezing sound made when a person gasps for breath after a severe coughing attack. Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that spreads fast. Although babies get whooping cough easiest, children and adults can get the disease as well. Symptoms may start out resembling a common cold, but over time coughing attacks are more serious and can last for weeks. Adults developing whooping cough may experience prolonged coughing fits, vomiting, weight loss, urinary issues, pneumonia and rib fractures as a result of the coughing.

Fifth Disease
Although fairly common and mild in most children, fifth disease is a viral infection that often results in a red rash on the arms, legs, and cheeks. Sometimes called “slapped cheek disease” for its appearance, it can pose a more serious threat for pregnant women or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Most doctors advise patients to wait out the symptoms of fifth disease, since currently no medication is available that helps shorten the course of the sickness. But children or adults with a weakened immune system should be closely supervised by their doctor.

Mumps is an acute viral disease that is spread by coughing or sneezing. Some people may have no symptoms or very mild symptoms when they get the mumps, but they can still pass the virus onto others. Symptoms are fever and tenderness or swelling in the throat area or under the jaw. In males who have gone through puberty, up to 30 percent may experience testicular pain and swelling.

Vaccines and boosters have either reduced or eliminated many infectious diseases that were once deadly. However, the viruses and bacteria that cause these diseases still exist. While many people think they are safe if they have had their shots, experts agree that vaccinations are not created equal and they affect each person differently. While some vaccines have high success rates, others are less consistent. Talking with your doctor is advised.

If an adult was never immunized for certain diseases and she never actually had them, the chance of infection increases. This is especially true in communities in which parents do not get vaccinations for their children because they are worried about other health complications.

Vaccine Concerns
Some parents may worry that certain vaccines will harm their child, while others have doubts that certain vaccines even need to be given. Studies, including an analysis of 1.2 million children in 2014, show no link between vaccines and autism. However, studies continue to address this concern of many parents. Serious reactions can occur, but the risks associated with receiving vaccines are much less than the risks of the diseases themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the risk of a serious allergic reaction from any vaccine is one in 1 million doses.

Staying Healthy
If you’re concerned about contracting a disease, taking simple precautions is crucial. To view a list of vaccines and who should get them, go to and look for adult vaccines. Talk with your doctor to determine the vaccines you should safely receive based on your health or other issues.

If you’re planning to travel outside the U.S., consult a travel clinic for proper precautions and visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for full information. ■

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