Is Your Family Protected from Measles?

Mother with 2 young children reading a book

In 2019, the United States saw the highest number of measles cases since the disease was considered eliminated in 2000. This is drawing attention to the fact that this highly contagious and dangerous disease can spread in communities where a large number of people have not been vaccinated. 

Is your family protected?

When Should a Child Get the Measles Vaccine?

Children should get two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first at 1 year of age; the second at 4 years. The first vaccination provides a child with 93-94% immunity to measles. The second shot increases that immunity to 97-98%. 

Teens and young adults attending college, as well as people planning international travel, should be sure they have received two doses of the vaccine.

Are There Exceptions to the Immunization Schedule?

If there is a measles outbreak in your community or your infant will be traveling outside the U.S. between 6 and 11 months of age, they can safely get a dose of the MMR vaccine to offer protection from measles infection. This does not count for the infant’s first MMR, and the child should still get two doses at the ages recommended above.

Do Adults Need a Measles Vaccine or Booster?

This depends on when you were born. Here are some guidelines.

Adults born prior to 1957 likely have immunity from exposure to the measles disease prior to the development of the vaccine. However, if you are not sure, it is a good idea to get a blood test called a measles titer to measure your amount of immunity. If the titer shows minimal immunity, it is recommended you get two doses of the MMR vaccine, separated by at least 1 month.

Adults born between 1957 and 1962 likely received only one MMR shot. Also, your records may not specifically indicate if you received the inactivated or active attenuated (recommended) virus. Because of this, the safest action is to get the titer.

Adults who received MMR vaccine between 1963 and 1967 received an inactivated form of measles in the vaccine. That vaccine has since been found to be ineffective at conferring immunity. As a result, these individuals are considered to have no measles immunity and should get two doses of MMR, separated by at least 1 month.

Adults born between 1968 and 1989 may have received only 1 dose of MMR—the vaccine recommendations until the mid-1990’s. If you only had one MMR, you should get another dose to ensure full immunity. 

What Happens if Someone Is Exposed to the Measles?

If a child or adult received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, they will very likely not contract measles if exposed to someone who has the virus. A baby or other person without measles immunity has a 90% chance of contracting measles after even a short exposure. 

There are options to prevent or at least decrease the severity of the disease after exposure including:

  • Getting the MMR vaccine within 72 hours of the exposure (if more than 6 months old).
  • Getting immunoglobulin within 6 days of the exposure (can be given to babies younger than 6 months). Immunoglobulin is an injected serum of trained white blood cells that know how to recognize and fight measles. 

If you or your child is exposed to, or is showing signs of the measles*, contact your doctor’s office for advice. Avoid going to a waiting area in an office, clinic or hospital to limit the spread of this highly contagious disease. Call ahead so that the physicians’ office or hospital can make arrangements to evaluate you or your child.

For the latest information on measles outbreaks, visit the CDC website

*Measles typically starts with a high fever (103-105 degrees F), cough, impressive pink eye, runny nose and low energy. The rash typically does not show up until about 14 days following the initial exposure. Unfortunately, by the time the rash appears, the infected person has already been spreading the virus for four days and will continue to be contagious for an additional four days. Thirty percent of measles-infected individuals will have serious complications, including pneumonia, diarrhea, bronchitis, severe otitis media, blindness and encephalitis (swelling and damage of the brain).

author name

Joan B. Thode, MD

Joan B. Thode, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician with LG Health Physicians Roseville Pediatrics.

Education: Undergraduate—Franklin & Marshall College; Medical School—George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Residency—NYU Langone Medical Center.

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The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.

 

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