By Dr. Alwyn Rapose
Division of Infectious Diseases
Measles is a disease that has been making headlines across the nation in recent months. Outbreaks have occurred in 23 states, including Massachusetts, and affected over 800 people. This is the largest measles outbreak since the disease was declared eliminated from the Americas in 2016. The main cause of the recent outbreak is poor vaccination rates in some communities.
Before the advent of a vaccine in the 1960s, almost everyone contracted measles because it was so contagious. When individuals infected with the measles virus cough or sneeze, they spread the virus into the air in small droplets. People with measles are usually infectious about four days before to four days after the appearance of the rash, giving the virus ample time to spread from individual to individual. Measles can be a serious illness, leading to complications ranging from respiratory problems to encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Adult patients may experience more severe complications compared to children.
Fortunately, there is a vaccine against measles. It is called the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. When given in two doses, the vaccine protects virtually everyone.
Why receiving the vaccination is so important
The reason doctors and other health professionals want everyone vaccinated against measles is because the vaccine is highly effective in protecting vaccinated individuals from the disease by means of what scientists call “herd immunity.” When the vaccination rate within a community is high, those who are vaccinated act as a barrier and help dramatically reduce the risk of infection for those who cannot be immunized – such as very young children or those with compromised immune systems. The presence of vaccinated people helps slow the spread of the virus, giving more protection against outbreaks. Unfortunately, in some areas of the country this protection by herd immunity has broken down because some groups decide not to vaccinate their children.
At Reliant Medical Group, we join the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in encouraging you to have your child fully immunized. Remember that these vaccines have been carefully tested for safety and designed to fight potentially deadly infections. The MMR vaccine is part of the U.S. childhood immunization schedule. The vaccine is given in two doses, the first dose is recommended at 12 months of age and the second dose is administered at age four years. These doses can be given earlier in special situations like during a measles outbreak or travel out of the country.
It’s important to note that some adults who received the measles vaccine between 1963 and 1967 may not be protected from the virus. That’s because when the measles vaccine first became available in 1963, there were two versions used and only one was effective. The first version of the early vaccine, also known as the “killed” measles vaccine, was discontinued in 1967 when it was determined to be ineffective. The second version was the live attenuated measles vaccine, which was effective.
If you were vaccinated between 1963 and 1967 and are not sure which version of the vaccine you received, you should try to check your vaccination records. In addition, if you received only one dose of the measles vaccine as a child you may not be fully protected from the virus. If you cannot locate your records and are concerned about being protected from measles, you can ask your doctor if being revaccinated makes sense for you, or you can get your blood tested to see if you are immune. Keep in mind that if you have had measles in the past, you will have built up antibodies to the virus and will be fully protected. This can be determined by the blood test.
Remember that vaccinations help ensure the health of not just you and your children, but the entire community. Please don’t skip these vaccinations!
About Alwyn Rapose, MD
Originally from India, Dr. Alwyn Rapose now enjoys practicing medicine in Massachusetts. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester and liked the experience so much that he stayed on board for another year as Chief Resident. He then completed his Infectious Disease fellowship at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.
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If Measles is so bad, why did my mother send us kids to play with kids that had the measles? She was not afraid of it because it lasted less than a week and gave us permanent immunity.