Adults: Make Sure You're Protected Against Measles

by Kelli Barrett

| 4 min read

Man holding up shirt sleeve to show bandage from vaccination.
The measles virus is experiencing a resurgence in the U.S. Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declaring measles eliminated in 2000, it confirmed 839 cases in 23 states from Jan. 1 to May 10, 2019. The country hasn’t experienced the disease in such large numbers since 1994. New York City reported 498 cases in Queens and Brooklyn. Michigan is another state experiencing a measles outbreak, though it isn’t as big. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services confirmed 43 cases, most of which are in Oakland County. Measles symptoms generally start seven to 14 days after a person is infected. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, red watery eyes and cough but evolve into a full-body rash. Passing from one person to the next through a cough or sneeze, the virus is easy to spread and wildfire-style contagious. It’s so catchy the CDC says that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who aren’t immune will also become infected.

Take measures to fight measles

Immunity to measles is all about the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine. The majority of people in the U.S. who’ve contracted the virus were unvaccinated, the CDC says. Along those same lines, measles spreads through communities with large unvaccinated populations. Health organizations recommend all children get two doses of MMR vaccine starting when they’re between 12 and 15 months. The second dose should happen when kids are between four and six years old. Adults who weren’t vaccinated as children should also get two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days. These two doses are 97% effective at preventing measles and should cover a person for life. There are exceptions to getting the vaccine, however. Adults born before 1957 are one. Before vaccines, the main prevention method was to have children catch measles and develop immunity before reaching adulthood. The measles vaccination program began in 1963 so the health care community determined most people born prior to 1957 contracted the virus naturally as kids. Other groups who shouldn’t get the vaccine include people with serious medical conditions such as life-threatening allergies or a history of immune system problems. Pregnant women should wait to get vaccinated until they’re no longer pregnant.

Did I get vaccinated as a child?

For some adults, knowing with certainty if they did or didn’t get the vaccine as a child is difficult. Memories get murky and people pass away. Certain events can add to the uncertainty. The measles vaccination program began in the early 1960s but from 1963-1967, the medical community administered an inactivated measles vaccine. This vaccine is ineffective and those who received it should be revaccinated with at least one dose.

If you got the vaccine, it’s recorded

The good news is doctors document vaccinations and give a copy to the vaccinated person or, if a child, to their parents or caregiver. That isn’t to say locating this documentation is going to be easy, especially if a lot of time has passed, but it’s a good place to start. The CDC offers a few suggestions on how to find this information:
  • Ask parents or other caregivers if they have records.
  • Check with your high school or college health services for dates of vaccinations. These records are generally kept for one to two years after students leave the system.
  • Check with previous employers that may have required you to get a vaccine.
Some state health departments keep registries that may include vaccines. Michigan, for instance, has the Michigan Care Improvement Registry, which tracks local and state vaccination rates and gives people access to these records. There isn’t a guarantee that adults will find records of vaccinations from childhood in the registry, according to the MDHHS, which facilitates the registry. It’s a comprehensive record for people born in Michigan starting in 1994 to present. But if you’re looking for your vaccination history, it may be a good place to check, nonetheless. To find out if your vaccination record is in the MCIR, you can contact the local health department or ask at your doctor’s office. Your doctor’s office is a great place for all vaccination-related inquiries. Your primary care doctor can offer unique insights so it’s important to consult with him or her about your health history, and that includes vaccines.

Can I get the vaccine again?

If you’re unable to find a record of your vaccinations, the CDC says it’s safe to get MMR vaccine twice. While not ideal, it won’t hurt a person either. If you found this post helpful, you might also want to read:
Photo credit: Backyard Production

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