Measles in 5 Minutes

Here’s the most common questions I’ve been getting about measles lately, including from my recent TV interview.

1.  Why has measles come back?

Herd immunity has dropped due to more families opting out of getting the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for their children. Herd immunity is like having enough vaccinated people standing guard around those who are susceptible.

2.  Wasn’t it eradicated from the US in 2000?

“Eradication” is different from “elimination.”  Smallpox was eradicated.  In 2000 the CDC announced that measles was eliminated from originating in the U.S.  Cases affecting Americans have since originated from outside our borders.

3.  How contagious is measles?

With a 90% transmission rate, it is extremely contagious.  Through airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing, one person can infect 12 to 18 other people.  The virus can stay viable outside the body for 2 hours.  An asymptomatic person can spread the virus four days before getting a rash.

4.  What are the symptoms?

A fever of 104 or above, runny nose, cough, and red eyes.  This is followed by a red rash.  Complications include diarrhea, pneumonia, brain inflammation, deafness, blindness, and death.

5.  Does the MMR vaccine cause autism?

No.  The 1998 paper first touting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has since been retracted. Since that time numerous studies around the globe, studying over 14 million children, have not found a credible link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

6.  Who needs to get vaccinated?

Children normally get vaccinated at age 12-15 months and again at age 4-6 years.  Persons born before 1957 probably have natural immunity.  Those born from 1957 into the 1960’s may have received one measles shot.  Those born in the 1970’s and beyond most likely have received two shots.  Two shots are recommended.

7.  My child is too young to get the vaccine.  How do I protect my infant from measles?

Stay away from large crowds–at picnics, amusement parks, and malls.  Avoid day care centers if possible. Infants between 4 and 11 months old are most vulnerable as they have lost the maternal protection of antibodies against measles and aren’t old enough to get the MMR vaccine.  Exception:  infants younger than 12 months may receive the vaccine if traveling outside the US, but should still get shots at 12-15 months and 4-6 years of age.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”–Marie Curie