Basic Questions You Should Know About Measles

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Here are some questions you need know about measles, because CDC is mostly asked about them. (All these questions and answers are from CDC.)

Q: I’ve been exposed to someone who has measles. What should I do?

A: Immediately call your doctor and let him or her know that you have been exposed to someone who has measles. Your doctor can
  • determine if you are immune to measles based on your vaccination record, age, or laboratory evidence, and
  • make special arrangements to evaluate you, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk.
If you are not immune to measles, MMR vaccine or a medicine called immune globulin may help reduce your risk developing measles. Your doctor can help to advise you, and monitor you for signs and symptoms of measles. If you do not get MMR or immune globulin, you should stay away from settings where there are susceptible people (such as school, hospital, or childcare) until your doctor says it’s okay to return. This will help ensure that you do not spread it to others.  

Q: Am I protected against measles?

A: CDC considers you protected from measles if you have written documentation (records) showing at least one of the following:
  • You received two doses of measles-containing vaccine, and you are a(n)—
    • school-aged child (grades K-12)
    • adult who will be in a setting that poses a high risk for measles transmission, including students at post-high school education institutions, healthcare personnel, and international travelers.
  • You received one dose of measles-containing vaccine, and you are a(n)—
    • preschool-aged child
    • adult who will not be in a high-risk setting for measles transmission.
  • A laboratory confirmed that you had measles at some point in your life.
  • A laboratory confirmed that you are immune to measles.
  • You were born before 1957.

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Q: What should I do if I’m unsure whether I’m immune to measles?

A: If you’re unsure whether you’re immune to measles, you should first try to find your vaccination records or documentation of measles immunity. If you do not have written documentation of measles immunity, you should get vaccinated with measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Another option is to have a doctor test your blood to determine whether you’re immune. But this option is likely to cost more and will take two doctor’s visits. There is no harm in getting another dose of MMR vaccine if you may already be immune to measles (or mumps or rubella).

Q: I think I have measles. What should I do?

A: Immediately call your doctor and let him or her know about your symptoms you are having. Your doctor can
  • determine if you are immune to measles based on your vaccination record or if you had measles in the past, and
  • make special arrangements to evaluate you, if needed, without putting other patients and medical office staff at risk.

Q: My doctor or someone from the health department told me that I have measles. What should I do?

A: If you have measles, you should stay home for four days after you develop the rash. Staying home is an important way to not spread measles to other people. Talk to your doctor to discuss when it is safe to return. You should also
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and put your used tissue in the trash can. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid sharing drinks or eating utensils.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys, doorknobs, tables, counters.
Call your doctor is you are concerned about your symptoms.
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Q: How effective is the measles vaccine?

A: The measles vaccine is very effective. One dose of measles vaccine is about 93% effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus. Two doses are about 97% effective.

Q: Could I still get measles if I am fully vaccinated?

A: Very few people—about three out of 100—who get two doses of measles vaccine will still get measles if exposed to the virus. Experts aren’t sure why. It could be that their immune systems didn’t respond as well as they should have to the vaccine. But the good news is, fully vaccinated people who get measles are much more likely to have a milder illness. And fully vaccinated people are also less likely to spread the disease to other people, including people who can’t get vaccinated because they are too young or have weakened immune systems.

Q: Do I ever need a booster vaccine?

A: No. CDC considers people who received two doses of measles vaccine as children according to the U.S. vaccination schedule protected for life, and they do not ever need a booster dose. Adults need at least one dose of measles vaccine, unless they have evidence of immunity. Adults who are going to be in a setting that poses a high risk for measles transmission should make sure they have had two doses separated by at least 28 days. These adults include students at post-high school education institutions, healthcare personnel, and international travelers. If you’re not sure whether you were vaccinated, talk with your doctor. More information about who needs measles vaccine.
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Q: How common was measles in the United States before the vaccine?

A: Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, about 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of those people, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles.

Q: What are the vaccine coverage levels like in the United States?

A: Nationally, the rates of people vaccinated against measles have been very stable since the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program began in 1994. In 2016, the overall national coverage for MMR vaccine among children aged 19—35 months was 91.1%. However, MMR vaccine coverage levels continue to vary by state, with MMR coverage levels of <90% observed in 2016 in several states and local areas. At the county or lower levels, vaccine coverage rates may vary considerably. Pockets of unvaccinated people can exist in states with high vaccination coverage, underscoring considerable measles susceptibility at some local levels. For more information about 2016 childhood vaccination coverage, see a CDC MMWR.
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