Adults with Questions About Measles Immunity Should Visit Doctors

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 2/2/2015, 3:48 p.m.
With the current measles outbreak in the U.S., many adults may be wondering about their own immunity to the disease. ...
This thin-section transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed the ultrastructural appearance of a single virus particle, or virion, of measles

HOUSTON – (Feb. 2, 2015) – With the current measles outbreak in the U.S., many adults may be wondering about their own immunity to the disease. A Baylor College of Medicine family medicine physician weighs in with some advice for adults.

Measles is a highly infectious respiratory illness that causes a very high fever, runny nose, cough and red, watery eyes. A few days later the typical red, splotchy rash of measles develops, explains Dr. Camille Leugers, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor.

The measles virus is one of the most contagious germs known, and while most people recover fully within two to three weeks, as many as 3 in 10 people with measles will develop a complication, which can be serious and even life-threatening.

Children under 5 years of age and adults over 20 are more prone to severe complications, even death, Leugers said. These can range from ear infection to pneumonia and inflammation of the brain, known as encephalitis.

“Fortunately, a highly effective vaccine was developed in the 1960s. This vaccine has been part of the routine childhood immunization ever since,” Leugers said. “The two recommended measles vaccines are about 97 percent effective in preventing measles in people exposed to this virus and have proven to be safe.”

The measles vaccine is part of a vaccine that also protects against mumps and German measles (rubella), and is referred to as MMR. This vaccine is typically given to babies at 12 to 15 months of age, and a booster dose of vaccine is given around age 4. A second booster dose of the vaccine has been given since the late 1980s to provide even better protection from infection.

Adults born before 1957 are presumed to be immune to measles due to childhood exposure. Most adults born after 1958 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“For those adults who do not have their immunization records or who have questions about their immunity to the measles virus, blood tests can help determine if they are immune,” Leugers said. “Adults who have not received one dose of MMR or a blood test documenting immunity, should receive at least one dose of MMR.”

Leugers cautions that not every adult is a candidate for MMR, so consultation with a physician is recommended.

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