What you need to know about measles | TribLIVE.com

What you need to know about measles

Emily Balser

Allegheny County last week reported five confirmed cases of measles, its first ones of the year, and health officials are warning residents there will likely be more cases.

Measles cases nationwide have exceeded 700 so far this year, making it the worst outbreak in more than two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC officials have said New York State is considered the epicenter of the outbreak.

The measles tally represents the largest number of cases since measles were considered eliminated from the U.S. in 2000.

So, what does it mean for you?

Here are the most common questions residents may have about measles.

Question: How at risk am I?

Answer: Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease physician, said anyone born after 1989 who received two doses of the vaccine is about 97% protected. Anyone born in 1957 and before is protected from natural immunity because the disease was so prevalent at that time. He said the people born between 1957 and 1989 likely only received one dose and are about 93% protected.

Dr. Graham Snyder, director of infection prevention at UPMC, added the measles vaccine is one of the most effective vaccines.

“It’s very unusual to have a breakthrough infection for people who have been vaccinated,” he said.

Q: Do I need a booster?

A: If you’ve had two doses of the vaccine already, there isn’t a need for a booster, Snyder said.

In fact, most people do not need a booster. Snyder said there are three groups of people who may need a booster if they’ve had only one dose of the vaccine: college students, health care workers and people traveling internationally.

If you are unsure of your vaccination history, Snyder suggested talking with your primary care provider about looking up immunization records. If records are unavailable, doctors can also do a blood test to check your immunity.

Q: How contagious is it?

A: Measles is a highly contagious disease that spreads through coughing, sneezing or other contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected person.

According to the CDC, the measles virus can live for up to two hours in the air where the infected person coughed or sneezed. If other people breathe the contaminated air, or touch the infected surface then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, they can become infected.

Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: Symptoms typically appear one to three weeks after infection and include rash, high fever, coughing and red, watery eyes.

Snyder said some people infected with the virus can have severe complications including, in rare cases, pneumonia or a brain infection.

The CDC says measles can be serious for people of all ages, but children younger than 5 and adults older than 20 are more likely to suffer from complications.

Q: What about mumps and rubella?

A: The vaccine for measles also provides protection against mumps and rubella.

Snyder said outbreaks tend to fluctuate over time and right now, measles is the main concern.

He said there have been some cases of mumps reported in Pennsylvania. About 2,000 students at Temple University were diagnosed with mumps this year.

Some people who get mumps have very mild symptoms similar to a cold or no symptoms at all and may not know they have the disease. Mumps can have symptoms similar to measles but doesn’t include a rash.

Rubella, sometimes referred to as the “German measles,” was eliminated from the United States in 2004, according to the CDC, and fewer than 10 people in the United States contract it each year.

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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