Seventy people have been diagnosed with measles, and hundreds more have been exposed at schools, doctor's offices, hospitals, shopping malls and other places visited by infected patients. Arizona became the latest state to report a case of measles related to Disneyland when a woman in her 50s was diagnosed. The outbreak has spread to Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and across the border to Mexico.--USA Today, 1/23/15, “Disneyland measles outbreak spreads”
Health officials believe the Phoenix-area woman recently diagnosed with measles may have exposed as many as 195 children to the disease at the Phoenix Children's East Valley Center on Jan. 20 and 21.--USA Today, 1/28/15, “Arizona measles outbreak reaches 'critical point'”
The growing measles outbreak that started at Disneyland is spreading rapidly in the western United States, hitting California and Arizona especially hard. (Thankfully Oregon has reported only one case to date related to this outbreak.) This has caused many of our patients to wonder whether or not they are protected. Below are some answers to help you understand your risk.
What is the measles?
Measles is a highly contagious viral respiratory disease. It is spread through the air through coughing and sneezing.
What are the symptoms?
Measles, like many other viruses, start with a fever, runny nose, cough and sore throat. The eyes are often red appearing at first and then a rash appears that spreads all over the body.
How easy is it to catch?
Measles is extremely contagious—90% of people who have not been vaccinated will likely become infected if exposed. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an infected person is contagious for up to four days before symptoms occur. The virus can live for up to 2 hours on surfaces or in the air, which explains why health officials closely track where an infected person has been.
How do I prevent getting measles?
There is a simple and inexpensive way to avoid the measles: MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. In use since 1963, this effective—and safe— vaccine eradicated the measles so effectively that it was rarely seen by health workers in the United State for a generation. Typically the vaccine is given to children in two shots, or doses: the first is given when a child is 12-15 months old, and the second from 4-6 years of age. One dose of MMR is 93% effective, and two doses are 97% effective in preventing infection.
How do I know if I’m protected?
The CDC describes these people as immune to measles and do not need further vaccination:
- Preschool age children who have received 1 dose of the MMR.
- School age children who have received 2 doses of the MMR (given at the ages listed above).
- Healthy adults who know they had 2 doses as a child or have received 1 dose of MMR as an adult.
- Adults with confirmation of immunity (positive measles blood test called a ‘titer’).
- Adults with laboratory confirmation of having been exposed to the measles.
- People born before 1957.
I’m not sure if I’m protected from the measles. What should I do?
Adults who are unsure if they are immune to the measles can either get a blood test, or titer, that checks for immunity or simply get the MMR vaccine. Unvaccinated older children or adults can safely get vaccinated with 28 days between doses. Most healthy adults only need one vaccine.
(NOTE: Some groups, including women who are pregnant and people who are immunocompromised, should not get the MMR vaccine.)
If you have more questions about the measles vaccination and your immunity, contact your clinician.
Resources on Measles:
- Centers for Disease Control
- Immunization Action Control
- “Measles Cases Linked to Disneyland Rise, and Debate Over Vaccinations Intensifies,” The New York Times, 1/21/15
- "Measles: Perilous but Preventable," The New York Times, 2/4/15
My current passion is preventive medicine. I strive to help my patients become their healthiest selves while understanding their struggles in getting there. I most enjoy developing relationships with my patients and aim to understand the whole person and not just their specific medical concerns.