Measles Outbreak: Are You and Your Family Safe?
Cases of this highly contagious virus are rising, including in New Jersey and New York.
By Paul G. Alexander, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President Government Programs
For years, measles seemed to be a disease of the past.
Not anymore. Cases of measles – a very contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus -- are on the upswing throughout the U.S. in 2019, with severe outbreaks in the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. In New Jersey, 14 cases have been confirmed as of May 16 according the state’s Department of Health.
Seemingly eradicated, due to the introduction of a highly-effective vaccine in 1963, measles is occurring with alarming frequency because some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children. As of May 10th, 24 states reported cases of the measles, with the vast majority in New York.
This is particularly concerning because measles is one of the deadliest of all childhood rash/fever illnesses. Symptoms may include fever, cough, runny nose, watery eyes and a rash that covers the body. What makes this even more concerning is the fact that measles is also one of the most preventable childhood illnesses when children receive their recommended vaccines.
But measles isn’t just a threat to children; many adults can be at risk, too. Most people born before 1957 are thought to have been infected naturally with the virus through measles outbreaks and therefore safe from reinfection.
But, there are some adults who are not immune.
Measles vaccines became available in 1963, however the Center for Disease Control warns that vaccines administered between 1963 and 1967 may have been ineffective. If you got the standard two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine after 1967, you should be protected against the measles for life. That vaccine is 97% effective when the standard two doses have been administered.
On the other hand, 90% of people who have not been properly immunized and who come in close contact with an infected person will get measles. So, make sure to check with your doctor to determine if you or anyone in your family needs to get the measles vaccine.
Below is an overview of who should receive the vaccine:
Children … and the MMR Vaccine
Who should get it?
Healthcare providers recommend that all children get two doses of the MMR vaccine.
The first should be received between 12 and 15 months old, and the second between the ages of four and six. The second dose can be received earlier, as long as 28 days have passed.
If children older than six have not received the vaccine, they still may do so through 12 years of age. All 50 states and the District of Columbia require children entering childcare or public schools have certain vaccinations; most require MMR.
Check with your child’s pediatrician, who should maintain a detailed record of all vaccinations. If students at post-high school institutions do not have evidence of immunity, they are typically required to get two doses of MMR vaccine, at least 28 days apart.
Adults … and the MMR Vaccine
Who should get it?
Any adult without evidence of prior vaccination should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine.
Some adults, however, should not get the MMR vaccine; included are adults with severe, life-threatening allergies, women who are or might be pregnant, a weakened immune system due to disease, those born prior to 1957, and other factors. Check with your primary care physician for details.
During measles outbreaks, like the one occurring now, adults without evidence of immunization should get an MMR vaccination. If done within 72 hours of being exposed to measles, the vaccination will offer some protection against the disease, or enable the individual to have a milder case of the disease.
Adults who are unsure if they have received a measles vaccination are generally safe to get another dose of MMR. AIso, speak with your doctor about the possibility of getting revaccinated if you received the measles vaccine in its early years, between 1963 and 1967, as it was not as effective then.
Your physician will have a record of your vaccination history. Contact them immediately if you think you are at risk. Physicians can administer the vaccination in the office or will direct you to a pharmacy or wellness center. If you have questions about measles vaccination coverage, contact Horizon customer service at 1-800-355-BLUE (2583).