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Measles is showing up all over the place - How do I know if I am protected?

Measles has been in the news a lot lately because, as of last week, there have been measles cases reported in 16 states (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington).  Due to this recent increase in cases, the CDC actually issued a health alert to doctors and other healthcare providers on January 25 to be on alert for measles cases. Most of the measles cases involved in these outbreaks are children and adolescents who had not received a measles vaccination.


image: CDC

Why is measles having a resurgence?


Measles was successfully eliminated from the US in the year 2000 due to a very successful vaccination campaign.  Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that spreads through the air in respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 9 out of 10 people around that person will also become infected if they are not vaccinated. It is more contagious than COVID-19 and flu, necessitating vaccination levels of about 95% to stop its spread in communities. 


According to a CDC report in November 2023, kindergarten immunization rates dropped nationally to 93%. This decline places the US below that herd immunity threshold of 95% required to protect against measles.  This is why we are seeing outbreaks in different areas of the USA.  The decrease in vaccinations has happened for a couple of reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic itself disrupted immunization efforts globally due to missed doctor appointments, leaving millions of children behind on their vaccine schedule and vulnerable to preventable diseases like measles. Also, misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has also tainted some people’s views about all vaccines.


So, amid this measles resurgence, how does someone know if they are protected?

CDC explains that people are protected from measles if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

  1. Two doses of measles-containing vaccine, and they are:

  • A school-aged child (grades K-12)

  • An adult who will be in a setting that poses a high risk for measles transmission, including students at post-high school education institutions, healthcare personnel, and international travelers.

  1. One dose of measles-containing vaccine, and they are:

  • A preschool-aged child

  • An adult who will not be in a high-risk setting for measles transmission.

  • You had measles at some point in your life

  • You were born before 1957

If someone is worried that they may not have immunity, or are not sure they meet any of the above criteria, it is possible to get what is called an MMR titer test, which is available commercially at various labs for about $129.


Bottom line


Measles can cause severe complications and hospitalization. In 2022-2023, there was an outbreak in Columbus, OH among primarily unvaccinated children, and over 40% of the children involved were hospitalized. It is never too late to get children vaccinated, catch up on missed doses, and also adults for that matter. The MMR vaccine is safe, effective, and inexpensive, and routine vaccination is vital for controlling outbreaks and preventing measles hospitalizations and deaths.



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