June 20, 2019 by Amy Kimberlain
Do You Know If You Need A Measles Booster Shot?
As the measles outbreak continues to spread in many states, public health officials are urging parents to vaccinate their kids — and reminding adults that they may need a booster shot to protect themselves from this very contagious disease.
The outbreak, led by reported cases in New York and California, is the largest and longest-lasting since measles was first eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The last update issued Monday by the CDC puts the number of confirmed measles cases at 764 from 22 states. That’s the most since 1994, when 963 cases were reported.
“Most of the cases we’re seeing in the recent outbreaks have been among people who have not been vaccinated, and most of those cases have been children under 18 years of age,” said CDC director Robert Redfield, M.D.
But some adults are vulnerable as well, particularly those with weakened immune systems, possibly due from other underlying health conditions. Symptoms of measles begin with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat, followed by a rash that spreads over the body. It is one of the most contagious viruses in the world.
Do You Need a Booster Shot?
If you were born between 1957 and 1989, double check your immunization records, say doctors and public health officials. Many people born during that time only received one dose of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine because that was the recommendation back then. The CDC updated its guidelines, recommending two doses, in 1989. Children should get the first dose between 12 months and 15 months, and the second dose between 4 years old and 6 years old, say CDC guidelines.
Only people who received two doses of the measles vaccine as children are protected for life, according to the CDC. And older adults who contracted measles as a child also have life-long immunity.
“People born in the United States before 1957 are considered immune,” says Tony Tavarez, M.D., associate medical director, Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Children’s Hospital. “If a person has their vaccination record and it’s well documented, then it’s expected that they’re also immune. Especially because that vaccine is a good vaccine (post 1989).”
If you were vaccinated before 1989, one vaccine may not offer sufficient protection, explains Dr. Tavarez.
Measles remains a common disease in many parts of the world. Anyone who is not protected against measles is at risk of getting infected when they travel internationally.
One of the Most Contagious
Measles is one of the most contagious of all infectious diseases. Up to 9 out of 10 susceptible persons with close contact to a person with measles will develop the disease, says the CDC. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with infectious droplets, or by airborne spread of droplets when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. Measles virus can remain infectious in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves an area.
The bottom line: If you don’t know if you got one vaccine or two, or if you are not sure you contracted the measles as a child, consult with your physician about getting a booster.
“There’s been people who have been vaccinated and have said ‘I’ll get the vaccine anyway.’ And it’s not harmful,” says Dr. Tavarez
People at High Risk
According to the CDC, people at high risk for severe illness and complications from measles include:
- Infants and children aged younger than 5 years
- Pregnant women
- People with compromised immune systems, such as from leukemia and HIV infection