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Before I can begin to write about who should be getting a measles booster allow me to lay the groundwork to what got us here in the first place. 

As I write this today 764 is the number we have to talk about. Seven hundred and sixty four cases of measles have been diagnosed and verified by the Center for Disease Control this year alone. Just so we can all put those numbers into perspective, the number of cases of measles diagnosed in all of 2018 was 372 and almost 10 years ago that number was 63. 

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So in under a decade we have to endure a public health nightmare, which has seen over 12x as many women, children and men are diagnosed with measles since 2000. Not a week goes by on the news station without a mention of a measles outbreak somewhere in this country. 

So who is the blame for the sudden spike in measles cases you may ask. Well it’s the successful misinformation campaign by Anti-Immunization groups according the Center for Disease Control. With more and more parents electing to not to immunize their children they have now left their children exposed as well any one who comes into contact with those affected. 

These are some facts associated with the vaccine according the CDC:

  • One dose of MMR vaccine is 93% effective against measles, 78% effective against mumps, and 97% effective against rubella.
  • Two doses of MMR vaccine are 97% effective against measles and 88% effective against mumps

So seeing what you just read about the effectiveness of the vaccine you can see how the disheartening the fact that we are not even half way through the year and we have already doubled the amount of measles cases here in the united states. 

What are measles?

To talk about measles we have to talk about it in the different time frames of the disease.  The Pre-vaccination, Vaccination and Anti-Immunization periods

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1912 was the first year we recognized measles here in the United States with an average of 6,000 deaths per year within that first decade. Worldwide the numbers were even worse with epidemics occurring on almost a yearly basis resulting in 2.6 MILLION deaths per year. The vaccine didn’t become available until 1963 and by that time nearly all kids had been affected by the age of 15 with approximately 3-4 million cases occurring per year, resulting in 400-500 deaths and nearly 48,000 hospitalizations.

Public health efforts led by the CDC set an ambitious goal of completely eradicating the disease by 1982. By 1981 the number of cases dropped by more than 80% after just one administration of the vaccine but after a 1989 outbreak amongst vaccinated children new recommendations for a second dose of the vaccine were initiated which then promptly saw the number of cases continue to drop. In 2000 measles was declared, “eliminated” from the United States. 

Unfortunately, the anti-immunization movement which as already been debunked has led to the wide spread rise of cases across the United States and abroad. The World Health Organization declared that vaccine refusal is now a global threat because it has fueled outbreaks not only here domestically but across the globe due to unvaccinated travelers. 

Should I worry that I have measles?

I’ll be honest as a health professional I always assumed that diagnosing measles was something that I would do on standardized test but never something I would have to come face to face with. 

These are just some of the signs and symptoms associated with measles

  • High fever that begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts 4 to 7 days. 
  • In medical school we learned about the three C's for measles cough, corzya (head cold, fever, sneezing) and conjunctivitis 
  • The prototypical rash that starts on the face & neck and spreads down to the hands and feet.  The rash usually last about 2 weeks. 
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Severe Complications include:

  • More common in children under the age of 5, or adults over the age of 30. 
  • Include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia. 
  • Severe measles complications is more likely among poorly nourished young children, or whose immune systems have been weakened
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Do I need a measles booster?

So here lies the question at hand. Knowing what you know about the disease and the rise of people running around not vaccinated this question has come up more often than it ever should be but here we are. Now for starters there is an actual lab test that you can order that will tell you how much of the vaccine in concentration is in your body and physicians can determine if a booster is recommended in the first place but lets try to break it down by time frames. 

For those who were born before the vaccine was created in 1963 and have actually suffered a bout of measles than you will NOT have to get a booster because the act of getting the disease course has essentially immunized you for life. 

Now the CDC recommends that those who have gotten may have only received one dose of the MMR vaccine (this would be those who got it prior to the change to two doses) that they should receive a booster. Remember if you refer to the earlier writing that the second dose increased effectiveness from 93% to 97%. 

Now I can tell you that I have had college bound students who had to get the a measles booster because the concentration was below the accepted limits but for the most part the big goal is to catch those unvaccinated people walking amongst us.

Can you get a measles booster regardless of the test?

In summary there are no downsides to go to see your doctor and get a measles booster if you are concerned that you will be traveling to an area where measles outbreaks are high or you are concerned that the people in the anti-immunization movement has increased your risk here domestically.  Just consult your physician before doing so.