Measles Cases are On the Rise
In 2014, the United States recorded 644 measles cases, the highest number since 2000, the year that U.S. health officials determined that measles had been eliminated from the country. Subsequent measles outbreaks have occurred after people traveling overseas became infected and brought the disease back to the United States. This ongoing threat underscores the risk for measles among unvaccinated persons and the importance of continued vaccination against measles.
The Dangers of Measles
Measles is one of the most contagious vaccine-preventable diseases known to man. The virus lives in the mucus of the nose and throat of infected people and is spread through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. On average, someone with measles will infect nine in every 10 people they have contact with who do not have immunity.
Anyone who has not been vaccinated – or in rare instances, someone who has been vaccinated but has not developed immunity to the virus – can become infected with measles. Unvaccinated children under five are at highest risk for contracting measles and its potentially fatal complications. Pregnant women who have not been immunized and those with compromised immune systems are also at high risk.
The Symptoms of Measles
After an incubation period of 10 to 12 days, early symptoms of measles include a fever, cough, stuffy nose, red eyes and sore throat. Several days after these initial symptoms, a rash of small red spots begins to spread all over the skin, starting on the face and moving down the body. The rash usually lasts for three to five days and then fades away.
In uncomplicated cases, people infected with measles start to recover as soon as the rash appears and feel well in about two to three weeks. However, up to 40% of patients experience serious and sometimes fatal complications from the virus. These include pneumonia, brain inflammation, respiratory infections and pregnancy problems.
How to Protect Your Family
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend two doses of MMR, a combination vaccine that provides highly effective protection against measles, mumps and rubella, for children starting at age 12 months. Adults born during or after 1957 who have not had measles and have not been vaccinated are at risk and should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine. Two doses are recommended for some adults who are at higher risk. RediClinic administers the MMR vaccine to both adults and children 18 months and older.
How to Know If You’ve Been Vaccinated Against Measles?
What is a Titer?
Due to poor recordkeeping or other circumstances, many individuals are uncertain whether they have received the vaccinations necessary to gain immunity to common vaccine-preventable diseases. In the case of the recent measles outbreak that has now spread to 17 states, this uncertainty could cause great concern for an individual who lives in an affected area and is at high risk of exposure to measles, or who is at high risk of acquiring the disease due to a compromised immune system. For others, proof of immunity may be required by certain employers and schools. In these instances, a blood titer can be used to determine immunization status.
A titer is a blood test that verifies immunity to vaccinations or diseases you have had in the past. The test measures the presence and amount of antibodies in the blood. If the test is positive for a disease, you are immune. If the test is negative or below a specified value, you are not immune and need to be vaccinated. Titers are available to test immunity to many diseases, including Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Chicken Pox, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.
Know If You’re Immune to Measles
Individuals born before January 1, 1957 are considered immune to measles. For those born on or after this date, many employers and educational institutions require proof of two Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccines or proof of immunity for public safety reasons. An MMR titer can be used as proof of immunity due to previous infection or previous MMR immunization.
Importance of Measles Vaccination to Stay Safe and Healthy
Two Doses of Vaccine 97% Effective at Preventing Measles
Through March 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that 176 people from 17 states and Washington, D.C., have been diagnosed with measles in 2015. Affected states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington. Ninety percent of the measles cases reported this year can be linked to four outbreaks, the largest being a multi-state outbreak originating at a California amusement park.
Measles vaccination continues to be of vital importance for individuals of all ages. Those who choose not to vaccinate themselves and their children increase the risk of more outbreaks, not only of measles but of other vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccination of the general population also protects those too young or sick to be vaccinated, and those individuals who were vaccinated but did not develop immunity.
Who Should Get Vaccinated
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is a single shot that can protect children and adults from three highly contagious diseases. Two shots of the vaccine are recommended for all children. The first dose of measles vaccine is about 93% effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus, and two doses are about 97% effective.
Children should receive the first dose at age 12-15 months and the second at 4-6 years, or at least 28 days after the first dose. Some infants younger than 12 months should get a dose of MMR if they are traveling out of the country. Anyone who was born after 1956 should receive at least one dose of MMR vaccine, unless they provide proof of vaccination or proof that they have had all three diseases.
If you’re not sure about your immunization status and have no way of getting your record, ask your RediClinic clinician about getting tested with a titer. A titer is a blood test that establishes whether a person has immunity to measles (or other diseases) due to vaccination or a previous infection. You may also choose to receive the MMR vaccine without a titer.