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Measles vaccination: your best shot at prevention

Measles Vaccination: Your Best Shot at Prevention

February 19, 2019

Measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases. The best way to prevent measles is with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Measles was considered eradicated in the U.S. in 2000 due to vaccination. But the numbers have been climbing as a result of the anti-vaccination movement of the past few years combined with imported cases. In 2014, 664 cases were reported in the United States – the most in 20 years – including pockets of outbreaks in Texas.  The current U.S. outbreak has spread to 14 states and more than 100 people. So far, Harris and surrounding counties have seen no cases this year but it may just be a matter of time before measles hits home.

Melanie Mouzoon, M.D., managing physician of Immunization Practices for Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, answers some commonly asked questions about measles."

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of measles?

Measles starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat, followed by a rash that spreads all over the body. Tiny white spots with bluish-white centers on a red background (called Koplik’s spots) are inside the mouth on the inner lining of the cheek before the rash develops.

Q: How do people get measles?

Measles, a respiratory virus more contagious than influenza, is one of the most contagious infectious diseases. If one person has it, 90 percent of the people nearby who aren’t immune will also become infected, and the virus stays contagious for up to two hours after that person leaves the room.  When a person infected with the measles coughs or sneezes, the virus is spread to others through the air or on surfaces. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average person with measles infects 12 to 18 other people who are nearby. Those infected can be contagious for four days before and four days after they get the measles rash.

Q: Are measles dangerous?

Measles is fatal in 1 to 3 of every 1,000 people who contract the virus. Around 10 percent of people with measles need to be hospitalized. Complications may include a bacterial ear infection, bronchitis, laryngitis or croup, pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain that may cause vomiting, convulsions, coma or even death), pregnancy problems and low platelet count essential for blood clotting.

Q: Who’s at risk of getting measles?

Those who haven't received the vaccine for measles are more likely to develop the disease. Measles is still common in other parts of the world, including countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. Travelers infected with measles can return and infect others in their communities.

Babies and children under 5, pregnant women and those with a compromised immune system are also at greater risk of severe complications.

Q: How is measles treated?

There are no anti-viral medications that get rid of measles – doctors can only treat the symptoms and offer supportive care, like intravenous fluids and oxygen if needed.

Q: How can I avoid getting measles? How can I protect my child?

The best way to prevent measles is by vaccination. You can protect your child against measles with a combination vaccine that provides protection against three diseases: measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). Those who receive the proper vaccinations usually do not contract the measles virus.

Q: Is the MMR vaccine safe?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the MMR vaccine is safe and is effective at preventing measles as well as mumps and rubella.

Q: When and how often should vaccination occur?

  • The first dose of MMR vaccine is recommended at age 12 months through 15 months. A second dose is recommended at 4 through 6 years. Vaccine can be offered as early as 6 months if a child is traveling abroad or an outbreak is suspected that endangers the infant – for example,  in their daycare facility – and the second dose can be given as soon as 1 month after the first in these situations.
  • Anyone born during or after 1957 who has not had measles or been vaccinated is at risk and should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine.
  • The CDC recommends that babies ages 6 to 11 months who are traveling internationally receive one dose of MMR vaccine before their trip. These infants will still need two more doses of the vaccine later for best protection. In the event of a local outbreak, vaccination recommendations may change. Always check with your doctor for the latest information.

Q: Is the vaccine effective?

The measles vaccine provides protection against three diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). One dose of measles vaccine is about 93 percent effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus and two doses is about 97 percent effective.

Q: Is a booster needed?

No, those inoculated with two doses of measles vaccine as children according to the U.S. vaccination schedule are considered protected for life and do not ever need a booster dose.

See also:

  • Doc Talk blog post: Why You Should Tune Out the Vaccination Naysayers
  • A.D.A.M.: the online medical encyclopedia
Portrait of Melanie Mouzoon, MD, FAAP, FABM, Pediatric Hospitalist specialist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

About the Author

Dr. Mouzoon is the Managing Physician for Immunization Practices at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. She’s also a board-certified Pediatric hospitalist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Woman’s Center and is a fellow of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
Dr. Adesina from Kelsey-Seybold Clinic

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