Before the measles vaccine, measles caused about 400 deaths in the United States each year. Most people in the U.S. are now vaccinated against measles, or if they were born before 1957 they have natural immunity.
Outbreaks do happen though. Most cases of measles in the U.S. are linked to travel to other countries – for example, someone from the U.S. who has traveled outside the country can bring the virus back with them. When unvaccinated people are exposed, measles spreads very quickly. As the percentage of people who are fully vaccinated against measles declines, cases of measles become less rare.
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You should first try to find your vaccination records or other documents that show you are immune to measles. If you do not have written documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.
You can also ask your doctor for a blood test to determine if you are immune. This is sometimes covered by insurance. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles (or mumps or rubella).
Most people who were born before 1957 are considered immune to measles.
Anyone who has not been vaccinated and was born after Jan. 1, 1957 is at high risk of getting measles.
Babies under 12 months old are at risk because they are too young to be vaccinated. People who cannot receive vaccine because of medical conditions or who have weakened immune systems are also at risk of getting measles. It is important for healthy people to be vaccinated against measles to help protect people who cannot get the vaccine.
People who have had two doses of the MMR vaccine are 97% protected against measles.
A person can pass measles to others four days before their rash appears until four days after it appears.
Call your doctor, nurse or clinic right away. Before you go to the provider’s office, call to tell them that you or your family member might have measles. They will make special arrangements before your office visit to make sure that you don’t expose other people to the measles virus.
A doctor can diagnose measles with a physical exam and lab tests. Measles is so rare in the United States that many doctors have never seen the disease. Since many viruses can cause a rash, lab tests are essential.
Try to stay at home and avoid having visitors until you’ve talked with your healthcare provider to determine that it is not measles.
Measles is very contagious and spreads so easily that anyone who is exposed to it and is not immune (for example, someone who has not been vaccinated) will probably get the disease.
It spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and releases tiny droplets into the air. You can get measles by breathing in those droplets, or if they contact your eyes or nose.
The measles virus can survive in the air for up to two hours in a room after a person with measles has left it.
There is no specific treatment for measles. People with measles need to rest and stay hydrated. Some people will also need treatment for complications from measles, like ear infections, diarrhea or pneumonia.
Getting the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is the best protection against measles. The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. Getting two doses of MMR vaccine is about 97% effective at preventing measles.
When more than 95% of people in a community are vaccinated against measles, the disease slows down and doesn’t spread. This is called community (or herd) immunity.
If you think you may have been exposed to measles, call your doctor, nurse or clinic.
Washington State Department of Health: www.doh.wa.gov/measles
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html
The most common vaccine for measles is MMR, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMR vaccine is very safe and effective. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective.
Children should get two doses of MMR: the first at 12-15 months of age and the second when they are 4-6 years old. Children need the second dose before starting school, but they can get the second dose as soon as 4 weeks after the first dose.
Visit www.vaccinefinder.org to find a location near you. You can get the vaccine at your usual clinic or a pharmacy.
The MMR vaccine is covered by health insurance. If you are uninsured, there may be programs that can help you. In Washington State you can call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit http://www.parenthelp123.org/ for more information.
Free vaccines are available for children up to age 19 at healthcare providers across Washington State. Providers may charge an office visit fee and a fee to give the vaccine, called an administration fee. However, if you can’t afford the administration fee, you may ask your provider to waive it.
Very few people—about 3 out of 100—who get two doses of measles vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus. It could be that their immune systems did not have a strong enough response to the vaccine to give full protection to the virus.
The good news is people who have been fully vaccinated but get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness. And fully vaccinated people are also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.
If you’ve had two doses of MMR vaccine, you don’t need a booster. CDC considers people who received two doses of measles vaccine as children protected for life.
In general, adults born after 1957 need at least one dose of measles vaccine unless they have evidence of immunity. Healthy adults with one dose of the MMR vaccine are considered protected for life. If you are unsure of your vaccine history or just want peace of mind, it is safe to get another MMR vaccine.
If you're not sure whether you were vaccinated, talk with your doctor.
Research has shown that the measles vaccine (MMR) is safe. Getting vaccinated is much safer than getting any of the three diseases the vaccine protects against.
You can get more information on the safety of the vaccine for Measles from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like any medication, the measles vaccine (MMR) may cause side effects. Most are mild:
No, the MMR vaccine uses a weakened virus that is not able to be passed on.
Babies should get their doses of MMR at 12-15 months of age. The second dose, usually given at 4-6 years, will provide full protection for your child.
Children who can't get the vaccine because they haven't turned 1 year old are protected when everyone around them is vaccinated against measles. They depend on “community immunity”. You can protect your baby by checking that everyone they come in contact with is vaccinated: family, daycare workers, friends, community.
Because there are currently no reported measles cases in infants in the current Washington State outbreak, we are not recommending an early dose of MMR for infants at this time.
Babies age 6 to 12 months should receive MMR vaccine if they are traveling to areas of the world where there are epidemics of measles. The current number of cases in Washington State is very concerning, but at this time the Health Department is not recommending that babies under 12 months get a vaccine for local travel.
Pregnant women should not get the MMR vaccine. Pregnant women who need the vaccine should wait until after giving birth. Women should avoid getting pregnant for four weeks after getting the MMR vaccine.
Check with your family member’s healthcare provider for specific recommendations. In general, when people who around someone with a weakened immune system are vaccinated against measles, it can help prevent them from getting the disease.
Measles is more common in other parts of the world. Travelers should make sure they get the vaccine before leaving the United States.
Children 1 year old or older should get two doses of MMR at least 28 days apart. You can also get a blood test showing immunity.
Children 6 to 11 months old should get one dose of MMR before traveling. These children will still need two doses of MMR at 12 to 15 months and 4 to 6 years.
Visit the CDC’s traveler’s health page for more information about measles and travel.