Measles Outbreak: How Do I Protect My Family?


Measles cases are spreading across the country, including Tennessee, and many families are contacting us to learn how to best protect their children and themselves. We hope that the information in this article will be helpful.


Measles is a highly contagious, airborne viral illness. So contagious, in fact, that if an unprotected person enters a room where a person with active measles was 2 hours earlier, they have a 90% chance of getting measles. The virus can be transmitted from 4 days before the rash becomes visible to 4 days after the rash appears. In areas of the country where there are numerous active cases and the virus is spreading, it is very important to make sure your family is protected.


The good news is that there is a safe and effective measles vaccine. Measles vaccine is currently part of two licensed combination vaccines: the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) and the MMRV (measles-mumps-rubella-varicella). There is no currently available single component measles vaccine.


MMR is routinely first given to children at 12-15 months of age per the standard schedule. The second dose of MMR is routinely given between 4-6 years of age. The second dose is not a booster, but rather is intended to produce immunity in the small number of people who fail to respond to the first dose. Between 2% and 5% of people do not develop measles immunity after the first dose of vaccine. This occurs for a variety of reasons. The second dose is to provide another chance to develop measles immunity for people who did not respond to the first dose. The second dose can be given as early as 4 weeks (28 days) after the first dose and be counted as a valid dose if both doses were given after the child's first birthday.


If you live in, or are traveling to, a region where there is a current measles outbreak and your child has only had their first vaccine, you should discuss getting the second vaccine early with your doctor. It takes 10-14 days for the body to build up protection from the vaccine. Why don't we give the second dose early for everyone? Unlike measles which gives lifetime immunity after two shots, protection from mumps starts to diminish after 7-10 years. By waiting to give the second MMR, we provide longer protection from mumps. (Mumps has already been a problem at some college campuses and other places.)


How can I protect my infant who hasn't yet received the 12 month MMR? If your child is at least 6 months old, they can receive a shot early. However, this will only give them temporary protection and they will still need the two routine doses at 12-15 months and 4-6 years of age.


Children under 6 months of age are not eligible to receive MMR vaccine. Antibodies circulating from their mothers prevent them from having an appropriate response to the vaccine. The best advice for parents planning to travel with infants less than 6 months of age to an outbreak area (either in the US or abroad): don't go.


What about parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles? People born prior to 1957 are considered immune because measles was widespread before the vaccine. Anyone who has had two doses of vaccine or has proven measles immunity by antibody titers (bloodwork) is considered protected. There is no indication for a third measles vaccine. If you are not sure, or had only one vaccine, the CDC has great information here.


Vaccination does not just protect our families, but also protects those vulnerable members of our community who cannot get the vaccine either because they are infants and too young, are undergoing treatment for cancer, have immune deficiencies, or are immunosuppressed because they have had an organ transplant. By vaccinating your family you are helping to keep our community as safe as possible and contributing to herd immunity. #VaccinesSaveLives

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1318 University Avenue, Sewanee, TN 37375  |  phone (931) 598-9761  |  fax (931) 598-5038         

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