Protecting yourself and your family from measles

Published in For the Health of It Author: CentraCare

Elaina R. Lee, MD, Pediatrician
St. Cloud Medical Group Northwest Campus

Thomas M. Math, MD, Infectious Disease Specialist
CentraCare Clinic - River Campus Infectious Diseases

The United States currently is experiencing the largest outbreak of measles in 25 years. As of today, there have been no reports of measles in Minnesota — but it was only two years ago when 79 people were sickened by a local outbreak.

Currently, measles outbreaks have been reported in New York City, New York State, Michigan, Georgia and California. An outbreak in Washington state that had sickened 72 people was declared over at the end of April.

In some parts of the world, measles is still common. This year, measles outbreaks have also been reported in Israel, Ukraine, Japan, Brazil and the Philippines.

With so much in the news about this illness and the summer travel season about to begin, to help keep you and your family informed — here are some common questions and answers about the condition.

About Measles

What are the symptoms of measles?

  • High fever (may spike to more than 104° F)
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Rash breaks out 3-5 days after symptoms begin

Why should I be worried about measles? Isn’t it simply a childhood illness that everyone used to get and get over?

Measles is far from a “simple” illness and can be serious in all age groups. However, children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are more likely to suffer from measles complications.

What types of complications can happen?

Some people may suffer from severe complications, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and could die.

  • As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children.
  • About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
  • For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it.
  • Measles may cause pregnant women to give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.

Why is measles so contagious?

Measles is spread by coughing and sneezing. The measles virus can live for two hours in the airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed. Also, infected people can spread measles to others for four days before and after a rash breaks out.

It is estimated that if one person has measles, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune also will become infected. That’s why it’s so important that those who show the early symptoms of measles stay home and avoid public places.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from measles?

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is very effective. One dose of measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus. In those who received two doses, it is about 97 percent effective.

Children

Does my child need to be vaccinated for measles?

Unvaccinated children are particularly vulnerable to measles. Of the 79 Minnesotans sickened with the measles in 2017, 73 cases involved children under age 10. And 71 of the cases involved individuals who were not vaccinated.

All children 12 months and older who have not received the MMR vaccine should work with a health care provider to get it.

The MMR vaccine is safe. Research has proven no association between MMR vaccine and autism.

Adults

Do I need to be vaccinated for measles?

It depends on your individual health history. Consider the following:

  • Adults who have never had the MMR vaccine, and have never had the measles, should also work to get immunized.
  • Most people born before 1957 are likely to have been infected naturally and therefore presumed to be protected against measles.

If am an adult who got only one dose of the MMR vaccine, should I work to get a second dose?

If you were born after 1957 and received one dose of the vaccine — you may only need a second dose if you will be somewhere that poses a high risk of being exposed to measles. These include:

  • College students
  • Healthcare workers
  • International travelers

If I am an adult who got two doses of the MMR vaccine, do I need to get a booster?

No, people who got two doses of the MMR vaccine — separated by at least 28 days — are considered protected for life.

What can I do if I am unsure if I ever got the MMR vaccine?

If you are unsure of your vaccination history, talk to your health care provider or try to find your vaccination records. You also can request your immunization record through the Minnesota Department of Health.

If you do not have written documentation of MMR vaccine, you should get vaccinated. The MMR vaccine is safe, and there is no harm in getting another dose if you may already be immune to measles, mumps, or rubella.

Can I get the MMR vaccine if I am pregnant or could be pregnant?

Pregnant women should wait to get MMR vaccine until after they are no longer pregnant. Women should avoid getting pregnant for at least one month after getting MMR vaccine.

Can I get the MMR vaccine if I am breastfeeding?

It is safe for breastfeeding women to receive MMR vaccination. Breastfeeding does not interfere with the response to MMR vaccine and the baby will not be affected by the vaccine through breast milk.

For More Information

Where can I go to find more information on measles and the MMR vaccine? Please review the following resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

If you need help in finding a health care provider, contact CentraCare Connect for assistance.

Access MyChart to view your CentraCare health records, including immunizations.