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An estimated 41.5 million Americans are expected to travel over Memorial Day weekend according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). Even more will travel this summer. If your vacation plans include heading to a city or country where there’s a measles outbreak, you better take precaution. “Measles is a highly infectious virus,” says MarkAlain Déry, D.O., M.P.H. with Access Health Louisiana at the Pythian. “It’s transmitted through the air, so you literally breathe the virus into your body.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed individual cases of measles in 22 states. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in the year 2000. “This is unprecedented, unchartered territory,” says Dr. Déry. The CDC is linking many of these cases in the U.S. to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine, Japan, Brazil and the Philippines. These countries are experiencing large outbreaks which should cause concern for U.S. travelers.
The measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, the CDC says that 90-percent of the people they are close to and around frequently who are not immune, will also become infected.
“If you’re unsure whether you are immune to measles or if you’ve been vaccinated in the past, it’s perfectly safe to get another dose of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine,” recommends Dr. Déry. For adults who have received an MMR vaccine in the past and want to see if their immune system is still protected against exposure to the measles, a simple blood test at your doctor’s office can give you the answer.
“I recently had a patient who was traveling to a country with a measles outbreak soon. I checked the antibody level to see how much immunity to fight off the measles they had, and it was really low. I re-vaccinated as a precaution.” The CDC recommends teens and adults who have never been vaccinated for measles to get two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine separated by at least 28 days.
Symptoms of measles start out as high fever, cough, runny nose and red watery eyes. Then two or three days later, the person will develop tiny white spots known as Koplik spots inside their mouth. Three to five days after exposure, the person will develop a skin rash. The rash usually starts at the hairline and spreads downward to the neck, arms, legs and feet. Infected people can spread measles from four days before symptoms surface until four days after the rash appears.
Dr. Déry says, “the measles vaccine is very effective, but it is important to remember that like any vaccine, it takes time to work.” After receiving the MMR vaccine, your body needs time to produce protective antibodies in response to the vaccine. People are usually fully protected after about two or three weeks of completing both doses. Déry recommends “if you’re traveling internationally, you should plan to be fully vaccinated at least four weeks before you depart. If your trip is less than two weeks away and you’re not protected against measles, you should still see your physician to get at least once dose of MMR vaccine.”
The CDC is keeping a watchful eye on the measles outbreak in the U.S. to determine whether Americans who have had the MMR vaccine should be vaccinated again. So far, no recommendation has been made to the general public. Dr. Déry says, “we’re always concerned when there is an outbreak of this sort due to lack of vaccination.” If you’re not vaccinated, protect yourself and your loved ones and get vaccinated. For animal lovers, it’s important to know that your furry friend can’t spread measles or contract the dangerous virus.
Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control (CDC).