Measles is a very highly contagious virus that is spread through coughing, sneezing and even just breathing. According to the CDC, nearly all who are exposed and do not already have immunity from vaccination or prior infection will contract the illness. On top of this, it is quite a dangerous illness for children, 1 out 10 of whom will develop a subsequent ear infection and 1 out of 1,000 of whom will develop encephalitis or even die. Presenting initially like a cold, it is very easy for an infected individual to spread the virus before they even know what they have.
Fortunately, we have a very good, safe and effective means of preventing infection and spread of the virus: vaccines. The measles component of the MMR is highly effective, with greater than 95% of recipients gaining immunity. Naturally, there are situations in which a person should not receive the MMR and these include:
- People should not get MMR vaccine who have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or to a previous dose of MMR vaccine.
- People who are moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should usually wait until they recover before getting MMR vaccine.
- Pregnant women should wait to get MMR vaccine until after they have given birth. Women should avoid getting pregnant for 4 weeks after getting MMR vaccine.
- Some people should check with their doctor about whether they should get MMR vaccine, including anyone who:
- Has HIV/AIDS, or another disease that affects the immune system
- Is being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids, for 2 weeks or longer.
- Has any kind of cancer
- Is taking cancer treatment with x-rays or drugs
- Has ever had a low platelet count (a blood disorder)
- People who recently had a transfusion or were given other blood products should ask their doctor when they may get MMR vaccine.
If you have never had the measles or the vaccine, please visit your health care provider and discuss it with them. In the age of international travel, you don't need to go anywhere yourself to be exposed.