Have you ever had the measles before? Were you vaccinated when the vaccine came out? Are you much older, or do you have small children? Here’s why the current, rapidly spreading measles outbreak should concern you:
Measles is highly contagious—if you don’t have immunity, there’s a 90% chance you’ll get sick after being exposed to someone who has it and is coughing or sneezing.
Do you have measles immunity?
-If you have a weakened immune system, nope. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been vaccinated, or survived measles as a child—highly immunocompromised patients, like from HIV/AIDS, cancer, or certain medications, can get measles.
-If you got vaccinated, there’s a decent chance you have immunity. Decent, but not 100%—vaccines wear off, and not everyone gets immunity from them initially (remember, they’re one size fits all, and there’s a wide variety of immune systems out there—initial rates seem to be 99% effective after 2 doses).
-Those vaccinated before 1980 got a milder vaccine, and may be at risk for getting a mild form of the disease.
-If you had measles as a child, congratulations, with only a few exceptions, you have lifelong immunity!
What are the symptoms, and risks, of measles?
Now that you know what you’re risk is for measles, let’s talk about the symptoms, since travel is spreading it around the country.
The measles begin as a very high fever, then cold-like symptoms: coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and red eyes, then eventually the tell-tale mark of measles spots (Koplik’s spots). People are contagious 4 days before and after having the spots.
For a small percentage, though, complications could develop. Pneumonia, brain inflammation, eye damage, and of course the worst complication of all—death. Like chickenpox, measles is harder on your body if you get it as an adult, and of course, harder on any body that doesn’t have a robust immune system.
Now, a couple of notes on the vaccine debate. Vaccines aren’t ideal, but in the case of measles, the risk of complications from the disease is magnitudes higher, and more serious, than from the vaccine. Just let Road Dahl paint you a tragic picture about his experience with measles, and the death of his seven year old daughter: On Olivia.
A second, uncomfortable fact is that society has changed a lot since pre-vaccine times. More kids are in daycare than ever, and of course, that’s been a hotspot for measles outbreaks—putting the youngest (and naturally weakest) among us at risk. Babies under a year old have a small amount of immunity that they get from mom, so the first vaccination for measles is at a year, when it should be more effective (ie. when there’s not already a few antibodies to take care of it). In countries with higher measles rates, they vaccinate younger and more aggressively—so American babies aren’t really prepared for this outbreak.
And of course, vaccines protect those with weakened immune systems by offering herd immunity. When outbreaks like this happen, those people are no longer protected, and should take extra precautions!
Be sure to watch the headlines for a measles outbreak near you. It’s far better to take some preventative steps—immune support, avoiding sick people, staying home a few days—than to risk dealing with a potentially serious infection! And beware that doctors may be prone to misdiagnosing the measles!
Thoughts on the outbreak, vaccination, or tips on which states are at risk for measles? Share with us!