By Amany Messieha Dgheim, Wellness Coordinator

Several areas of New York are experiencing a measles outbreak, including the lower Hudson Valley and parts of New York City.

As of April 22, there have been 231 confirmed cases in New York outside of New York City (199 in Rockland County, 20 in Orange County, 10 in Westchester County and two in Sullivan County).

Measles is a serious and very contagious respiratory disease. You can catch it just by being in a room where someone with measles coughed or sneezed. Symptoms may appear as early as two to four days or take as long as 21 days following exposure. They include high fever, runny nose, red and watery eyes, cough and a peculiar rash with small slightly raised red spots. Some spots congregate in clusters giving the skin a blotchy red appearance. The rash begins at the hairline and spreads to the face, neck, then to the rest of the body, arms and legs.

A smaller number of those infected with measles suffer from complications. Measles can lead to diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia and serious brain infections that can lead to brain damage and possible death. Exposure to measles during pregnancy increases the risk of early labor, miscarriage and low birth weight infants.

An infected person is contagious to others even before the infection is detectable or the rash appears. While there is no treatment for the measles, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, bed rest and fluids are used to reduce the fever and alleviate the symptoms.

Prevention of measles infection can be achieved by vaccination using the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine, the first dose to be administered within the first 12 to 15 months of age, and a second dose as early as one month from the first one and up to 4-6 years.

Children attending pre-K, day care or nursery school are required to have received the first dose of the MMR vaccine. Children attending kindergarten to 12th grade, as well as college students, are required to provide proof of receiving two doses of the vaccine.

If you have been exposed to measles, immediately call your local health department, doctor or clinic. Urgent vaccination or an immune globulin shot may protect from or reduce the severity of the infection.

For questions about measles, call the NYS Measles Hotline at 888-364-4837.