Measles was eradicated in the U.S. in the year 2000. Since then, increasing numbers of people are choosing not to vaccinate. In 2004, 37 people were reported to have measles. By 2014, it was 667, and 695 so far this year. 500 of the 695 were not immunized, and many of the rest were under immunized.
Measles is a viral respiratory illness characterized by a high fever, cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis, and a characteristic rash. The rash starts as spots inside the mouth, followed by a skin rash which spreads from the head to the trunk to the thighs. Patients are contagious from 4 days before to 4 days after the rash appears. Complications of measles can include encephalitis, pneumonia, croup, ear infection and diarrhea. Encephalitis can lead to permanent intellectual deterioration and seizures. In the pre-vaccine era, 500,000 cases of measles were reported annually, with 500 deaths per year, usually from pneumonia. The worldwide mortality rate for measles today is 100,000 deaths per year. Those at highest risk for complications of measles are children under the age of 5, pregnant women and immunocompromised patients.
In 1963 the first measles vaccine came out, followed in 1967 by the second generation vaccine which is still used today. It is a two part vaccine. The first dose confers adequate immunity in 95% of patients. The second dose attempts to capture the remaining 5%. Kids get their first dose between 12-15 months of age and the second dose at 4-6 years of age. Measles is vaccine preventable. The vaccine is safe.
For more information, I interviewed Dr. Walter Dehority, Associate Professor of Pediatric Infectious Disease at UNM, Co-Chair of New Mexico Immunization Practices Advisory Council.
Do grandparents need to be reimmunized to protect themselves and their grandchildren? All people born prior to 1957 are considered immune to measles because it was so prevalent in the population at that time. These people were never vaccinated and do not need to be vaccinated now. For people vaccinated during the years 1963 — 1967, it may be a good idea to either have their measles titers checked with a blood test, or to get reimmunized at a pharmacy or doctor’s office.
Are there any special precautions to take before travelling? For those who are already immunized, no additional precautions are needed. Children below 6 months of age are protected by maternal immunity, if their mother is vaccinated. Children 12 months or older should be vaccinated. Babies between 6-12 months of age can get their first vaccine early, for the purposes of travel, then restart the normal schedule at 1 yr of age.
Is the measles vaccine safe? Yes, it is safe. The most common side effects are a sore arm and fever. There is plenty of research showing that it does not cause autism. Because of that false claim made in years past, there is probably more research on the side effects of the measles vaccine than typical, all of which shows it to be safe.