If you have plans to travel, please talk to your healthcare provider about measles

Even though health officials in Oregon and Washington have declared the measles outbreak in their states over, measles outbreaks are still happening both in the United States and in other countries. The number of measles cases in the U.S. in the first 4 months of the year is the highest it has been in over 20 years, with more than 700 cases. Measles is one of the most highly contagious diseases in the world, so if you have plans to travel anytime soon, make sure your measles vaccination is up to date.

Tell me how it spreads.

Measles is extremely contagious. Infected people can spread the virus to others beginning around four days before the rash appears, and up to four days after. The measles virus can live for up to two hours on a surface or in the air after an infected person has coughed or sneezed. If other people who are not immune breathe the contaminated air or touch the contaminated surface they can become infected – and about 90 percent of those who aren’t immune will become infected, which is not very good odds!

So vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.

That’s right. Getting an MMR immunization, which protects you against measles, mumps, and rubella, is the best way to protect yourself and your family, as well as your friends and community.

Who should get the vaccine?

If you are traveling in the United States or abroad, you should talk to your doctor about whether you and your family members are adequately immunized.

Current recommendations are that all children should get one dose of vaccine when they are 12-15 months old and a second dose when they are 4 to 6 years old. All school-aged children and students entering college should have received two doses of the MMR vaccine. Adults born after 1956 should have received at least one dose of the vaccine, except healthcare workers and international travelers, who should receive two doses. Babies may receive the vaccine as early as 6 months if they are traveling internationally, but they should still be vaccinated at 12-15 months and 4-6 years old.

People who get the vaccine can protect people who can’t get the vaccine, which is called herd immunity. Can you explain how that works?

If a person gets measles and everyone that person comes into contact with is immune, there is no transmission of the virus. That’s what we mean when we say herd immunity. However, if even one person isn’t immune then the virus spreads. The more people who are not immune, the more likely the virus is to spread in the community from a single infected person.

What happens if or when we do get a case in the state?

Local public health teams will investigate it immediately to find out where the person was infected, public places they might have visited while they were contagious, who might have been exposed, and to identify those who are likely to become infected because they aren’t immune. Those people will have to be monitored for symptoms and offered vaccine to help prevent the disease or to minimize symptoms if they do get sick. If we do have a case in Idaho, we will notify the public so everyone can take measures to protect themselves.

(Note: A Closer Look at Your Health airs most Tuesday mornings on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment for May 7, 2019.) 

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