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Measles: Your Family's Safety and What Doctors Want You to Know

Dr. Swanson — AKA Mama Doc — shares her thoughts

Published on: June 18, 2019

doctor giving girl a vaccination

No matter what you’re feeling right now, know this: If your children are vaccinated against measles it’s safe for them to play and interact with others. The amazing thing about the MMR vaccine is that it’s one of the most efficacious vaccines out there — it works so well protecting us.

Read more about the measles outbreak and Mama Doc's advice here

What people may be at risk of contracting measles who perhaps don't realize that they may need another MMR vaccine?

Well, many of us aren’t positive about our immunization status. So, first things first: Check in with your primary care doctor to understand what your medical records reflect. And I’m hearing that many people (adults) are calling their moms! Good to do both, as many parents are super organized, but since many of these records are in paper from long ago, it may be best to use your doctor’s office to help.  

measles infographic
Infographic provided by Dr. Kim Burlingham

Here are some basic reminders with support from recommendations you can also read from the CDC: If you were born before 1957, the recommendations to avoid another MMR come from only presumptive evidence for measles, mumps and rubella. This was a time before vaccines were available, so consequently nearly everyone was infected with measles, mumps and rubella viruses during childhood. The majority of people born before 1957 are likely to have been infected naturally and therefore are presumed to be protected against measles, mumps and rubella for the rest of their lives.

Healthcare personnel born before 1957 without laboratory evidence of immunity or disease should consider getting two doses of MMR vaccine.

How safe are kids under 4 from contracting measles if they have only had their first MMR injection?

One dose of MMR vaccine is about 95 percent effective against measles. That means that out of every 100 children immunized, 95 of them are immune if exposed to measles. That small (5 percent) may not be as well protected. The second dose is delivered to get those children’s immune systems to respond. So, your children are very well-protected if immunized even after just one dose! If the 5 percent makes you worry, it’s okay to get the seccon dose earlier than age 4 if it has been at least one month since the first dose was given.

Should people who have concerns about their immunity get tested, and if so, how and where can they be tested?

If you’re unsure whether you’re immune to measles, you should first try to find your vaccination records or documentation of measles immunity. If you do not have written documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles (or mumps or rubella).

Another option that is an alternative if you don’t want to do the MMR shot is to have a doctor test your blood to determine whether you’re immune. Your blood titers will reflect immunity from either the vaccine or infection in the past, but because the vaccine is safe, it’s often recommended to do that instead of have the blood test to check for immunity.

Could I or my child still contract measles if we have been fully vaccinated?

After full vaccination, you are 97 percent protected against measles, so you could be the rare 3 percent who may contract measles even with full vaccination. However, you will be more likely to have a milder illness, and are also less likely to spread the disease to other people.

How long does it take for the measles vaccine to work?

The shot typically provides protection in 10–14 days after vaccination. Interesting science on this: About 1 in 10 babies gets a fever after receiving their 1-year-old dose of MMR, but the fever isn’t immediate — it occurs about 7–12 days after the shot. The reason? It’s the immune system doing its job responding to the live virus. That fever is evidence that the vaccine is provoking immunity protection.

I don't know if I've been vaccinated. What should I do if I am unsure about my immunity to measles?

Ask your doctor. Blood tests can confirm immunity, but most clinicians will likely suggest you get an MMR vaccine to protect you.

I believe I may have been exposed to someone who has measles — what should I do?

If you do not have immunity against measles, mumps and rubella and are exposed to someone with one of these diseases, talk with your doctor about getting the MMR vaccine immediately. It is not harmful to get MMR vaccine after being exposed to measles, mumps or rubella, and doing so may possibly prevent later disease.  

If you get MMR vaccine within 72 hours of being exposed to measles, you may get some protection against the disease, or have a milder illness. In other cases (specifically in people with a high risk for side effects or who are immunocompromised), you may be given a medicine called immunoglobulin (IG) within six days of being exposed to measles to provide some protection against the disease or to help you have milder illness.

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