Measles is a very contagious respiratory infection. It's caused by a virus. It usually spreads when a person comes in contact with droplets from coughs or sneezes of someone with the virus. Direct contact with fluids from the nose or mouth of an infected person can also spread the virus. The symptoms of measles happen about eight to 12 days after coming in contact with a person with the virus. While most people recover, some develop serious complications like pneumonia and brain swelling. Up to five percent of children with measles suffer pneumonia, and one to three out of every 1,000 children with measles dies.
Those most at risk for measles are: children and adults who never had the measles vaccine, infants too young to get the vaccine (under one year of age), people with weak immune systems, even if they’ve been vaccinated against measles, and adults born in 1957 or later who are not known to be immune to measles.
In light of the current measles outbreak, I’m getting questions from my patients who are traveling this summer, asking if they should receive MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccinations before departure.
Usually, children receive the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine between the ages of 12 months and 15 months, then get a second dose between ages four and six years. But if they are traveling internationally, the advice is different, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In that case, babies six to 11 months old should get a single MMR dose. Meanwhile, youngsters ages 12 months and up should get two doses, separated by 28 days - if they have not yet received the standard MMR shots.
As for adults, make sure you have evidence of immunity against measles before traveling, the CDC recommends. That can include written documentation of adequate vaccination, a blood test showing immunity, or your age - people born before 1957 are presumed to be immune because they were probably naturally exposed to measles during outbreaks.
Most measles cases are related to international travel. Unvaccinated travelers can not only get sick - but may also bring the infection back with them, potentially spreading it to others who have not been vaccinated.
Measles was considered eliminated in the United States in 2000. But so far this year, the CDC (as of July 9) has received reports of 1,109 measles cases nationwide - the most since 1992. Cases have been confirmed in 28 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington. Talk to your physician if your child is traveling to one of these states.
In the end, this all underscores the importance of keeping all kids up-to-date on the MMR - not only those who will be traveling.
The CDC has an excellent new web page under its Measles (Rubeola) web section titled Plan for Travel.