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After All These Years, Am I Still Protected Against the Measles?

A specialist’s take on what you need to know.

A rendering of a measles virus
Photo credit: Getty Images
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Dear Doctor,

The recent measles outbreak has me worried about whether I’m protected against the disease. I’m 35 and was vaccinated when I was a child. Does the effectiveness start to wear off with age? And what about my parents, who are in their 60s? Are they still protected? Or do we all need booster shots?

Sincerely,

“Already Feeling Itchy”

Dear Already Feeling Itchy,

You’re right to be concerned, because measles is a very contagious viral illness. However, at this point, the measles outbreak we’ve been hearing about remains fairly limited to specific communities. Symptoms of measles are typically flu-like, with high fevers and a skin rash that usually involves the entire body. While most cases do clear in days to weeks, infected individuals can develop complications involving the lungs, brain, and intestinal tract. Measles can be fatal in both adults and children.

It’s certainly an illness that needs to be taken seriously, but the good news is that protection against infection is reliably achieved with proper vaccination. The measles vaccine is part of the combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). It’s recommended by the CDC that this vaccine be administered starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, then the second dose at age 4 through 6.

Those individuals who are not vaccinated have about 80 to 90 percent risk of developing measles infection if they are exposed to someone contagious. And because this virus is spread airborne (and can live in the air for up to two hours), it’s very easy to spread—even in the absence of direct contact with an infected person.

Even if you were last vaccinated decades ago, the vast majority of individuals who received the vaccine as a child will remain protected against the measles virus. Keep in mind, it is generally recommended that college students or those embarking on international travel receive a booster shot to ensure they’re protected, as these environments can pose additional risk of catching the disease.

If you’ve had the vaccine, there’s nothing additional you need to do unless directed by your doctor or our public health officials.

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Published May 7th, 2019
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

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