Measles outbreak: Am I immune to the measles?

Most us know that we should vaccinate our children against measles, but what about adults who aren’t sure if they are protected?
May 8, 2019

There have been more than 700 cases reported during the measles outbreak in the United States so far this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the highest number since measles was considered eradicated in the United States nearly 20 years ago.

Of the 44 people who were infected with measles while traveling abroad before returning to the United States, 10 percent were vaccinated. That leaves many adults wondering if they need another dose of the vaccine. The answer is, maybe. Gabriel Neal, MD, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, explains what adults need to know.

What if I’m not sure if I’m vaccinated against measles?

You can go straight to your primary care provider and have a blood test to test for measles immunity. If it shows that you’re not immune, then your provider will vaccinate you against measles with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR).

Are there side effects to the vaccine for measles?

The MMR vaccine is very safe. Most side effects are very minor and include sore arm from the shot, mild fever and mild rash. An actual measles infection has much more serious potential complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, pneumonia and even death. These are more common in both children under age 5 and adults over 30.

Are there any cases in which someone would need three doses of the measles vaccine?

There isn’t evidence to support a third dose, with two exceptions: Children as young as 6 months old who are either living in an endemic area or who will be traveling abroad should get one dose of the vaccine. They would then get the usual two doses, at least 28 days apart, after they are 12 months old.  The second is for people who belong to groups at increased risk for getting mumps. These groups are usually those who are likely to have close contact—such as sharing sport equipment or drinks, kissing or living in close quarters—with a person who has mumps. Your local public health authorities or institution will communicate to the groups at increased risk that they should receive this dose. If you already have two doses of MMR, it is not necessary to seek out vaccination unless you are part of this group.

Why is it so important to make sure I’m vaccinated for measles before traveling abroad?

Most countries in Europe (a common place for Americans to travel abroad) have vaccination rates below the 95 percent generally recognized to provide herd, or community, immunity to the population. In addition, many of the countries that are popular travel destinations for Americans—such as France, Belgium and Ireland—have some of the highest numbers of measles cases in Europe. Beyond Europe, many countries have even greater numbers of cases. Worldwide, the total number of reported cases in 2019 thus far has risen by 300 percent over last year, according to the World Health Organization.

Is there anyone else at special risk for measles who should consider checking on their immunity status?

People who live in close quarters with others, such as university students, and health care workers are all encouraged pay special attention to their vaccination and immunity status.

I’m thinking about becoming pregnant. Should I have the vaccine first?

It’s not routine to be tested before pregnancy. Nevertheless, because pregnant women can’t get the vaccine, if you’re concerned or unsure of your status, ask your provider about the blood test.

Is there anything else I should know about vaccinating for measles?

Most of the people who are getting measles haven’t been vaccinated, so those who have had their two doses of the vaccine shouldn’t worry, unless they are potentially in a high-risk group. But again, if anyone is concerned, a visit to your primary care provider and a simple blood test can tell you if you’re immune.

— Christina Sumners

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