How to Protect Yourself and Your Family From Measles

Some adults may need a measles booster
Woman recieving the measles vaccine

Like the bad guy in a horror movie, the measles just won’t die. The current measles outbreak continues to spread across the U.S.

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“Measles spreads very quickly among people who aren’t protected from it,” says infectious disease specialist Kristin Englund, MD. “When somebody is coughing or sneezing, the virus can get into the air or make contact with furniture and other surfaces. It remains there for up to two hours, even after the infected person has left the room.”

But with so much information (and fear-mongering) out there about measles in adults and children, how can you protect yourself and your family? Dr. Englund lays out your options.

If you were born before 1957

It seems that living in the pre-vaccine time of tuberculosis, polio and measles helps you here. “If you were born before 1957, you were most likely exposed to measles and are now immune,” Dr. Englund explains.

  • Action item: Nothing. (And thank goodness – that to-do list of yours is already full.)

If you were born between 1957 and 1989

The measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, but until 1989, people only received one dose of it. One dose is about 93% effective, Dr. Englund says. A second dose boosts that effectiveness to 97%.

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  • Action item: If you’ve definitely gotten two shots, you’re off the hook and can breathe a sigh of relief.
  • If you maaaaaybe have gotten a second dose, Dr. Englund recommends going to your doctor for a blood test to check if you have measles antibodies and are immune. If you’re not, you can get vaccinated. Or, you could just get that shot anyway.

“There’s no harm in getting a third vaccine,” she assures.

If you were born after 1989

You most likely have documented proof that you’ve been vaccinated for measles twice in the form of the MMR vaccine, which also includes vaccines for mumps and rubella.

  • Action item: If you don’t have documentation of your vaccines and you’re not sure whether you received them, see your doctor for an immunity test or go ahead and get another vaccine.

If you’re planning to travel

“There are outbreaks all over the world, certainly in areas such as Israel, Ukraine, Germany and the Philippines,” Dr. Englund says.

  • Action item: Check the CDC’s website for up-to-date information on measles hotspots. Then, get a measles vaccine if you aren’t sure about your immunity status or if you’ve only had one MMR shot. Dr. Englund recommends getting your vaccine at least two weeks before you leave.

If you have young children

The CDC recommends this two-dose vaccine schedule for children:

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  • First dose: Between 12 and 15 months of age.
  • Booster: Between 4 and 6 years of age, or at least 28 days after the first dose.

If you’re traveling with an infant 6 to 12 months old to an area with high measles risk, they can receive an early dose of the MMR vaccine. Once they turn a year old, though, they will still need the two-vaccine series.

  • Action item: Get your children vaccinated. “We need to be vigilant about protecting those who can’t be protected by the vaccine,” says Dr. Englund.

When you should NOT get the measles vaccine

Dr. Englund says you should talk to your doctor before getting an MMR vaccine if you are:

  • Pregnant.
  • Taking biologic or immune-suppressing medications.
  • Undergoing chemotherapy.

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