Measles is a viral infection that can cause a red, blotchy rash, fever, cough and a runny nose. This highly contagious condition can also lead to serious and even life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis. Because measles can be prevented with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination, most children are now protected from contracting the virus.
Unfortunately, a diagnosis of measles is becoming more common in the United States as an increasing number of parents opt out of vaccinating their children. In fact, one researcher believes Texas may be a prime place for a measles outbreak due to the number of children who have not received the MMR vaccine. Learn more about the measles, how the vaccine works and ways to keep your child safe.
How does the measles vaccine work?
When a virus or bacteria strikes, the body creates antibodies to fight off the infection. Each antibody is specific to that particular infection. Once the body has made these antibodies, it can recognize and fight off the infection in the future, even before the symptoms show.
Vaccines are a safe way to expose the body to the virus without getting the disease. They allow the body to have a natural immunity to the condition without a cough, fever, fatigue and risk of serious complications.
The MMR vaccine is a 3-in-1 immunization that can protect your child from measles, mumps and rubella. The injection contains weakened strains of each of these viruses. Your body's immune system recognizes the viruses and creates antibodies to fight the weakened strains.
When do you get the measles vaccine?
Your child should receive his or her first MMR vaccine between 12 and 15 months of age. The second vaccine is administered between 4 and 6 years of age. The vaccine typically provides lifelong protection from these conditions.
Children should not get the MMR vaccine early (prior to 12 months), unless the child is traveling to an endemic area or to a country with measles circulation. Check with your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about upcoming travel or a recommended immunization schedule.
How do I protect a baby who is too young to receive the vaccine?
If you have somebody in your family who cannot be vaccinated, whether they are too young or they have a problem with their immune system, make sure that everybody around them has been vaccinated. This creates a sort of cocoon effect around them.
Should adults get a booster shot?
Most adults who have received a measles vaccine do not require a booster shot. Adults who were immunized between 1963-1967 may consider getting a booster as the vaccine during those years was not as effective as the current vaccine. In addition, if any adult is missing their immunization records or is unsure if they were vaccinated, they should consider getting a dose of the MMR vaccine. A booster dose will not be harmful either way.
Anyone born before 1957 is considered measles immune since there was widespread circulation of measles prior to the introduction of the vaccine. These individuals do not need to be immunized.
Are there side effects from the measles vaccine?
Most children do not experience any side effects from the MMR vaccine. The most common side effects are typically mild, and can include a rash, fever or temporary soreness. Some parents have concerns that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism. However, scientific studies have repeatedly shown no evidence that vaccines cause autism.
How does measles spread?
Measles is spread by coming into contact with someone who has the virus. When someone with the condition coughs, sneezes or talks, this can spread the virus onto nearby people, air and surfaces. The virus can live for up to two hours in the air after an infected person leaves the room. According to the Centers for Disease Control, if one person has measles, 90% of the people close to that individual who are not immune will also contract measles.
Can you get measles if you've been vaccinated?
If your child received the MMR vaccine, he or she should not get the illness if they come into contact with a person who has measles. However, about three percent of people who get the vaccine do not develop immunity. When exposed to an infected person, this small percentage of people may still get measles. In addition, young children who have not had their second dose of the MMR vaccine are at higher risk of contracting the disease.
As the MMR vaccine becomes more common worldwide, measles rates have declined across the globe, making it less likely to be exposed to a person with the measles. Vaccinating your child against the measles can help ensure your family and community is protected against the disease.
Learn more about vaccines and how they can protect your child from serious illnesses. To ensure your child is up-to-date on their MMR vaccine and all their vaccinations, contact your pediatrician.