Measles on the rise get a booster

Protect yourself and others before you travel. Credit: Centers for Disease Control.

Although we think of measles as something historic, the disease is making a comeback due to missed vaccinations and global travel.

Many parents incorrectly frightened by a fraudulent medical journal article that suggested a link between autism and MMR vaccination have declined vaccinations for their children.

This has led to a spike in measles outbreaks and related complications. In adults infection can be serious with a higher likelihood of pneumonia, cornea scarring and brain swelling. Ninety percent of unvaccinated individuals or those who have not developed an immunity who are exposed to the highly contagious disease will become infected.

The measles virus is suspended on droplets from an infected person’s airways and spreads efficiently. Several countries in Europe have had outbreaks this year. Recently there was an imported outbreak of measles in California’s Mendocino County. In the years 1988 to 1990, following another imported case complicated by a low-local vaccination rate, 16,400 Californians contracted measles, and of those 3,390 were hospitalized and 75 died.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that those outside the presumed-immune group get an adult booster if they intend to travel.

You are considered immune to measles if:

  • You were born before 1957 in the United States, since measles was highly prevalent and exposure with natural immunity is presumed.
  • You have had a prior physician diagnosed case of measles.

The vaccine does not contain a live virus and side effects are typically injection-site soreness and low-grade fever, as with most vaccinations. Measles vaccination in someone with natural immunity does not result in any increase in adverse effects. Health care workers have been required to receive the adult booster vaccination for decades so there is a wealth of experience with this practice. If you are not immune to measles, a review of your vaccination status and consideration of an adult booster is cheap and enduring travel insurance.

If you travel for Fermilab business, our Medical Office has a list of local Travel Medicine Clinics that stock this vaccine along with others that may be advisable based on your destination.

— Brian Svasas, MD MPH