Measles Q&A with Dr. Magrini
Measles! It’s something that wasn’t even on most people’s radar 6 months ago. Now it’s something we are hearing about every day in the news and is striking fear into people’s hearts, young and old. It’s an illness that when I did my medical training I didn’t really think I would have to worry about. We learned about it in historical terms, and on the off chance you might come across a traveler from another country who brought it to the US in your clinic, but not something to worry about, as it was considered eradicated in the US in 2000 (meaning it was no longer constantly present) … But now, patients ask me daily about this, and I find it is something I am concerned about with my own 6.5 month old daughter. And I know a lot of you have questions about how to protect yourself and your children against this very infectious disease, so let’s hit on a few of those now.
1. What do measles look like? It usually starts with flu like symptoms, including fevers, cough, congestion, and red, itchy/runny eyes. The rash usually doesn’t start until 3-5 days after these symptoms start, and is a blotchy red rash that usually starts on the face and moves down the body. It doesn’t typically scar, and resolves within about a week.
2. What if my child is too young to be vaccinated, or only had their first MMR shot? We typically don’t vaccinate children until the age of 1 for measles, because it is thought that they are protected by antibodies from mom that crossed the placenta until around that age; we do vaccinate children who will be traveling abroad as early as 6 months, because of the prevalence of mumps, measles and rubella in other countries. If your child has received one dose of the MMR vaccine, they are likely protected from the illness as typically 90-95% of children form the protective antibodies from the first dose. The second dose at 4-5 years old is given to boost that percentage to 95-98%.
3. Can I, or my vaccinated child, bring the illness home to my un-vaccinated baby? It’s very unlikely you could bring the measles home to your child if you and your older children were vaccinated against measles. The virus does last up to 2 hours on surfaces and in the air, so good hand washing is important, but it would be very unusual to transmit the virus to your child by bringing it home to them on your clothing, etc. The best way to protect your children who are too young to receive the vaccine is to ensure that you and your family are up to date on vaccinations.
4. How do I know if I am protected from measles? If you were born before 1957, you are considered to be immune to measles as the illness was prevalent at that time and illness typically produces lifelong immunity; if you were born after that time, if you have documentation of at least one dose of the MMR vaccine or blood tests that show immunity to mumps, measles and rubella, you are considered protected. People who received the “killed” vaccine during 1963-1967 should receive 2 doses of the current MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days to ensure protection.
5. Can vaccinated children/adults get measles still? The short answer is yes, although it is rare. The vaccine is extremely effective at preventing the illness, however it is not 100%, so there are cases of immunized people still contracting measles.